Profiling

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Searching Black People for No Reason Isn't Police Work, It's Discrimination

If you don't think racial profiling is a real problem, I'd like to introduce you to some young men who beg to differ. Anyone in the black community who opposes marijuana legalization should see this video:


Is it any wonder that the consequences of our marijuana laws fall hardest on people of color? If that's who police are stopping and searching, then that's who will be arrested and stuck with a criminal record the rest of their life. The whole situation is so blatantly horrible and unfair, it's hard to believe anyone was even remotely surprised to see NAACP finally speaking out about it.

Marijuana Legalization is a Civil Rights Issue

This week's news that the California NAACP is endorsing Prop. 19 to legalize marijuana in California hasn't exactly been met with universal applause in the black community. Anti-pot crusader Bishop Ron Allen thinks it's a conspiracy, Big Ced at News One thinks NAACP is stoned, and blogger Mo' Kelly thinks they've lost sight of the distinction between civil rights and civil liberties:

The issue of decriminalizing marijuana is a separate and distinct discussion from the inherent inequities of the criminal justice system. Both are legitimate issues, but not meant to be commingled.

The NAACP, the nation’s oldest CIVIL RIGHTS organization walking point on the CIVIL LIBERTIES issue of marijuana legalization is a farce and an embarrassment. Let the ACLU do what it does…so the NAACP (in California and beyond) can deal with real CIVIL RIGHTS issues…

Ok, but the two aren't mutually exclusive. Let's not forget how these marijuana laws came about in the first place:

In the eastern states, the "problem" was attributed to a combination of Latin Americans and black jazz musicians. Marijuana and jazz traveled from New Orleans to Chicago, and then to Harlem, where marijuana became an indispensable part of the music scene, even entering the language of the black hits of the time (Louis Armstrong's "Muggles", Cab Calloway's "That Funny Reefer Man", Fats Waller's "Viper's Drag").

Again, racism was part of the charge against marijuana, as newspapers in 1934 editorialized: "Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice." [Why is Marijuana Illegal?]

The decision to prohibit marijuana was fueled by racist hysteria, and many have argued that the decades of racially disparate enforcement that followed weren't entirely coincidental. Whether or not our marijuana laws were intended to serve as an instrument of racial oppression, they've performed that function with staggering precision. And when people of color receive unequal treatment under the law, that's a civil rights issue.

Our marijuana laws have never, and will never, be enforced fairly. The brutality of modern drug enforcement reaches every community, but if young white men were given criminal records and subjected to profiling and police harassment at the same rates as people of color, the criminal justice system would quickly come to a crashing halt. The drug war was built on a foundation of fundamental unfairness, and mitigating its catastrophic impact on communities of color requires measures far more drastic than telling police for the millionth time that there's more to their job than searching young black men all day and night.

No, legalizing marijuana won't solve the problem. Not even close. But what it will do is remove one of the primary justifications police rely upon when stopping and searching people in urban communities. It will stop the hemorrhaging of employment opportunities lost by those convicted of simple possession. It will cripple the existing distribution model, thereby reducing youth involvement, street violence and the cyclical lure of the prohibition economy and the severe criminal justice consequences faced by its participants. It will shield generations from the fate that our formerly pot-smoking President was so desperately lucky to have avoided.

If anyone thinks we can solve these problems while still making nearly a million marijuana arrests every year, then please explain. But don't condemn NAACP for supporting a new approach when the old one has failed as consistently and dramatically as it has.

Drug War Chronicle Video Review: "10 Rules for Dealing With Police," from Flex Your Rights

In 2008, the latest year tallied in the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, more than 14,000,000 people were arrested in the United States, and uncounted millions more were subject to "stop and frisk" searches either on the streets or after being stopped for an alleged traffic violations. Of all those arrests in 2008, more than 1.7 million were for drug offenses, and about half of those were for marijuana offenses. For both pot busts in particular and drug arrests in general, nearly 90% of those arrested were for simple possession. 10 Rules is available with a donation to StoptheDrugWar.org now! "10 Rules" will help the both the entirely innocent and those guilty of nothing more of possessing drugs in violation of our contemptible drug laws reduce the harm of their run-ins with police. Not that it encourages the violation of any laws -- it doesn't -- but it does clearly, concisely, and effectively explain what people can do to exercise their constitutional rights while keeping their cool, in the process protecting themselves from police who may not have their best interests in mind. Those stops and those arrests mentioned above, of course, were not random or evenly distributed among the population. If you're young, or non-white, or an identifiable member of some sub-culture fairly or unfairly associated with drug use, you are much more likely to be stopped, hassled, and perhaps arrested. The writers of "10 Rules," Scott Morgan and Steve Silverman of Flex Your Rights understand that. Building on the foundation of their 2003 video, "Busted: A Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters," which featured mainly young, white people involved in police encounters, Morgan and Silverman have expanded their target audience. In three of the four scenarios used in the video -- a traffic stop and search, a street stop-and-frisk search, and a knock-and-talk home search -- the protagonists are a young black man, a young Latino man, and a black grandmother, respectively. In only one scene, two young men apparently doing a dope deal on the street, are the citizen protagonists white. That's not to say that "10 Rules" is intended only for the communities most targeted by police, just that the writers understand just who is being targeted by police. The lessons and wisdom of "10 Rules" are universally relevant in the United States, and all of us can benefit from knowing what our rights are and how to exercise them effectively. "10 Rules" does precisely that, and it does so in a street-smart way that understands cops sometimes don't want to play by the rules. "10 Rules" build upon the earlier "Busted" in more than one sense. While "10 Rules" is expanding the terrain covered by "Busted," it has taken the cinematic quality to the next level, too. While "Busted" was made using a beta cam, this flick is shot in High Definition video, and that makes for some great production values, which are evident from the opening scene. "10 Rules" was shot on a bigger budget that "Busted," it has more actors (including some drug reform faces you might recognize), and more professional actors, and it has more of the feel of a movie than most video documentaries. And it has legendary defense attorney William "Billy" Murphy, who plays the role of socratic interlocuter in the video. (You may remember him from appearances on HBO's "The Wire.") Appearing in a courtroom-like setting before a multi-ethnic group of very interested questioners, the pony-tailed lawyer begins with a basic discussion of the rights granted us by the US Constitution, especially the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth amendments dealing with the right to be free of unwarranted searches, the right to stay silent, and the right to legal counsel. His performance, folksy, yet forceful; scholarly, yet, street-savvy, sparkles throughout; his natural charisma shines through. From there, we alternate between Williams and his audience and the scenarios mentioned above. We see the young black man, Darren, get pulled over in traffic, produce a bit of bad attitude, and suffer mightily for his efforts. He gets handcuffed, manhandled, and consents to a search of his vehicle, after which the cop leaves his belongings strewn in the wet road and gives him a traffic ticket. Then it's back to the courtroom, where Darren, angry and feeling disrespected, tells his tale. Murphy is sympathetic, but explains that Darren broke rule #1. "Rule #1, always be calm and collected," the veteran attorney intones. "A police encounter is absolutely the worst time and place to vent your frustrations about getting stopped by the police. As soon as you opened your mouth, you failed the attitude test. Don't ever talk back, don't raise your voice, don't use profanity. Being hostile to police is stupid and dangerous." Such advice may be frustrating, but it's smart, and it's street-smart. Murphy noted that things could have turned out even worse, as the video showed in an alternate take on the scene with Darren twitching on the ground after getting tasered for his efforts. He also threw in some good advice about pulling over immediately, turning off the car, keeping your hands on the wheel, and turning on an interior light just to reduce police officers' nervousness level. Murphy uses the same scenario with Darren to get through rule #2 ("You always have the right to remain silent"), rule #3 ("You have the right to refuse searches), rule #4 ("Don't get fooled" -- the police can and will lie to you or tell you you'll get off easier if you do what they ask), and rule #5 ("Ask if you are free to go"). This time, the cop still has a bad attitude and Darren still gets a ticket, but he doesn't counterproductively antagonize the cop, he doesn't get rousted and handcuffed, he doesn't allow the cop to search his vehicle, he doesn't get intimated by the officers' threat to bring in a drug dog that will tear up his car, and he does ask if he's free to go. He is. Which brings us to a discussion of probable cause and and rule #6: "Don't expose yourself" and give police probable cause to search you. The video shows a car with bumper stickers saying "Got Weed?" "Bad Cop, No Donut," and "My other gun is a Tech-9" -- probably not a smart idea unless you really enjoy getting pulled over and hassled. More generally, "don't expose yourself" means that if you are carrying items you really don't want the police to see (and arrest you for), don't leave them lying around in plain sight. That's instant probable cause. I'm not going to tell you the rest of the rules because I want you to see the video for yourself. But I will tell you about the heart-rending scene where the black grandmother lets police search her home in the name of public safety -- there have been some gang gun crimes, they explain pleasantly -- and ends up getting busted for her granddaughter's pot stash, arrested, and is now facing eviction from her public housing. Under Murphy's guidance, we rewind and replay the scene, with grandma politely but firmly exercising her rights, keeping the cops out of her home, and not going to jail or threatened with losing her home. In a time when police are more aggressive than ever, "10 Rules" is an absolutely necessary corrective, full of folksy -- but accurate -- information. "10 Rules" is the kind of basic primer on your rights that every citizen needs to know, it's well-thought out and well-written, and it not only is it full of critically important information, it's entertaining. Go watch it and learn how to flex your rights. Better yet, watch it together with your friends, your family, or your classmates, then practice putting the rules into effect. Sometimes it's as simple as saying a simple phrase -- "Officer, am I free to go?" Do some role-playing, practice saying the magic words, and "10 Rules" can help you survive any police encounter in better shape than otherwise. When you're done, watch it and practice again -- familiarity is the best help when facing an intimidating police officer staring down at you. We all owe a debt of gratitude to people who feel strongly enough about the rule of law in this country to help others learn how the law protects them and how to protect themselves within the law. A big thank you to the guys at Flex Your Rights is in order. And they would be the first to tell you the best way to thank them is to learn and apply the "10 Rules."

BIG NEWS: The "10 Rules for Dealing with Police" Video is Here!!!

It's here. The "10 Rules for Dealing with Police" DVD. Donate $30 or more and get a free copy mailed within one week.
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From the creators of the classic, Busted: The Citizen’s Guide to Surviving Police Encounters (2003), our friends at the group Flex Your Rights are now releasing their new achievement, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police. Because StoptheDrugWar.org (DRCNet) members like you supported Busted, you've earned the first chance to see this important new DVD.

10 Rules for Dealing with Police, a 40-minute educational drama, is the most sophisticated and entertaining film of its kind. Narrated by the legendary trial lawyer William "Billy" Murphy, Jr. (from HBO's The Wire), 10 Rules depicts innocent people dealing with heavy-handed policing tactics used every day in the United States.

Through extensive collaboration with victims of police abuse, legal experts and law enforcement professionals, Flex Your Rights has developed a powerful multi-language (English, Spanish & Arabic) resource that provides proven survival strategies for dealing with racial profiling and police abuse.

Do you know what your rights are if you're stopped by police? Most people don't, and the consequences can be severe. From simple misunderstandings to illegal searches and excessive force, a bad police encounter can happen to anyone. But after watching 10 Rules for Dealing with Police, you'll be more confident and better prepared to handle every kind of police situation.

Get 10 Rules today!

Learn How To...

  • Deal with traffic stops, street stops & police at your door
  • Know your rights & maintain your cool
  • Avoid common police tricks
  • Prevent humiliating searches

Bonus Features

  • 10 Rules for Non-citizens (en Español)
  • Q&A with 10 Rules Creators
  • Spanish & Arabic Subtitles

We still offer Busted on DVD, too. Add $25 to your donation for a total gift of $55 and get both videos: 10 Rules AND Busted. Or get two copies of either DVD for $55. It's your choice. You can also add BOTH of our popular anti-prohibitionist t-shirts for your donation of $100 -- a terrific value while you support the important work of StoptheDrugWar.org. Get yours today!

  

StoptheDrugWar.org is the #1 source for the latest news, information and activism promoting sensible drug law reform and an end to prohibition worldwide. With 1.8 million unique readers in 2009 and with leading news and commentary sources making use of our web site on a regular basis, StoptheDrugWar.org is advancing the drug war debate and growing the drug policy reform movement, helping to start or spark the creation of organizations like Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Flex Your Rights and many others. Our strategy is working, and your generous donation will make a difference during these economically challenging times. Thank you for helping -- we look forward to sending your copy of 10 Rules!

NEW! Drug War Chronicle video review of 10 Rules

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' . ''; ?> StoptheDrugWar.org is the #1 source for the latest news, information and activism promoting sensible drug law reform and an end to prohibition worldwide.

10 Rules testimonials:

"The 4th Amendment has been on life support during both the Bush-Cheney and Obama administrations. The clearest and most constitutionally-grounded guide for all of us against this government contempt for our 4th Amendment rights is 10 Rules for Dealing with Police. It should be shown in schools, in local legislatures and in Congress.
Nat Hentoff

"10 Rules will educate all individuals about how to safely exercise their rights and protect themselves against abusive and illegal police behavior. It should be required viewing in high schools across the country."
Prof. Angela J. Davis, Professor of Law, American University Washington College of Law & former Director of the DC Public Defender Service, Author, Arbitrary Justice: The Power of the American Prosecutor

"Chronic disregard for civil rights is tearing apart the fabric of America. Flex Your Rights has hit the nail on the head in this hard-hitting instructional video."
Mike Gray, Author of The China Syndrome and Drug Crazy

"I believe 10 Rules will make an extraordinary contribution to the cause of social justice. Only those police officers who disregard the law have something to fear from its message. As an ex-cop, I thank Flex Your Rights for all you’ve done and continue to do."
Norm Stamper, Ph.D., Former Chief of the Seattle Police Department & Author of Breaking Rank: A Top Cop’s Expose of the Dark Side of American Policing

"I carefully read through the screenplay for 10 Rules thinking hard about what I would change or how I could contribute. I couldn’t find anything. I think Flex Your Rights has done a masterful job in putting this program together. I look forward to sharing 10 Rules with my students."
Dr. David E. Barlow, Professor and Chair, Department of Criminal Justice, Fayetteville State University & Author of Police in a Multicultural Society

"As the criminal justice system continues to target people of color, 10 Rules is an essential first line of defense. While some elements of our government nationwide still cling to weak denials about profiling, this film provides valuable information that can protect people of color while we insist on long-term solutions to end bias-based policing."
William H. Buckman, William H. Buckman Law Firm (see New York Times profile)

"Good community policing is impossible when officers disrespect constitutional rights. 10 Rules will help citizens understand their rights and ensure that law enforcement is professional and accountable to the public."
Ronald E. Hampton, Executive Director of the National Black Police Association & former Community Police Officer for the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police Department

"10 Rules will be a valuable teaching tool that can help citizens at all levels -- young and old -- to understand what they’re up against and how to protect themselves during the potentially volatile situation of an unexpected police encounter."
Prof. David A. Harris, Professor of Law and Values, The University of Toledo College of Law, Author of Profiles in Injustice: Why Racial Profiling Cannot Work & Good Cops: The Case for Preventive Policing

"I read the 10 Rules screenplay and am thoroughly pleased. It is well written, and I believe it realistically and fairly grasps the issue of racial profiling. Go forward!"
Rev. Reginald T. Jackson, Executive Director, Black Ministers’ Council of New Jersey & Pastor, St. Matthew A.M.E. Church

"10 Rules is an outstanding screenplay that resonates with authenticity, ripples with humor, and draws blood with its pointed examination of law enforcement in our cities. America's urban youth will love this movie, which talks straight and provides crucial, relevant advice on how to use America’s unique Constitutional protections. Two thumbs up."
Eric E. Sterling, Esq., President, Criminal Justice Policy Foundation & Adjunct Lecturer in Sociology, George Washington University

"The law can be complicated, but by mastering The 10 Rules you can increase the chances of protecting your constitutional rights during stressful police encounters."
Nkechi Taifa, Esq., Senior Policy Analyst, Open Society Institute

Asset Forfeiture: Texas DA Seeks to Use Seized Funds to Defend Herself in Lawsuit Over Unlawful Seizure of Same Funds

The Texas district attorney accused of participating in an egregious asset forfeiture scheme in the East Texas town of Tenaha now wants to use the very cash seized to pay for her legal defense in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by victims of the practice. The ACLU of Texas, which, along with the national ACLU, is representing the plaintiffs in the case, filed a brief last Friday with the Texas Attorney General's office seeking to block her from doing so.

Lynda Russell is the district attorney in Shelby County, where Tenaha is located. She is accused of participating in a scheme where Tenaha police pulled over mostly African-American motorists without cause, asked them if they were carrying cash, and if they were, threaten them with being immediately jailed for money laundering or other serious crimes unless they signed over their money to authorities.

Representing a number of victims, attorneys from the ACLU of Texas and the ACLU Racial Justice Project filed a civil lawsuit in federal court in June 2008. According to the suit, more than 140 people, almost all of whom were African-American, turned over their assets to police without cause and under duress between June 2006 and June 2008. If a federal judge agrees that assets were in fact illegally seized, they should be returned to their rightful owners, whose civil rights were violated.

In one case, a mixed race couple, Jennifer Boatwright and Ronald Henderson, were stopped by a Tenaha police officer in April 2007. According to the lawsuit, they were stopped without cause, detained for some time without cause, and asked if they were carrying any cash. When they admitted they had slightly more than $6,000, a district attorney's investigator then seized it, threatening them with arrest for money laundering and the loss of their children if they refused to sign off. There was never any evidence they had committed a crime, and they were never charged with a crime.

The town mayor, the DA, the DA's investigator, the town marshal, and a town constable are all named in the lawsuit. While they claim to have acted legally under Texas asset forfeiture law, the lawsuit argues that "although they were taken under color of state law, their actions constitute abuse of authority." The suit argues that the racially discriminatory pattern of stops and searches violated both the Fourth Amendment proscription of warrantless searches and the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause.

While either the county or the state would normally be expected to pony up for the DA's legal expenses for a lawsuit filed as a result of her performance of her duties, neither has done so. That's why Russell -- with a tin ear for irony -- requested that she be allowed to use the allegedly illegally seized money stolen from motorists. She has asked the state attorney general's office for an opinion on whether using the funds for her defense violates the state's asset forfeiture law.

"It would be completely inappropriate for the district attorney to use assets which are the very subject of litigation charging her with participating in allegedly illegal activity to defend herself against these charges," said Lisa Graybill, legal director at the ACLU of Texas. "Texas has a long history of having its law enforcement officials unconstitutionally target racial minorities in the flawed and failed war on drugs and it is of paramount importance that those officials be held accountable."

"The government must account for the misconduct of officials who operate in its name," said Vanita Gupta, staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program, who represented African-American residents of Tulia, TX in high-profile litigation challenging their wrongful convictions on drug charges. "The state of Texas has seen egregious examples of racial profiling that result from poor oversight of criminal justice officials."

The ACLU of Texas is using the Tenaha case to push for asset forfeiture reform in the Lone Star State. One such bill stalled in the state legislature this year. "The misuse of asset forfeiture laws by local officials is exacerbated by inadequate oversight," said Matt Simpson, policy strategist for the group. "The legislature must squarely address these reported civil rights violations via reform of forfeiture laws that strengthen protection against unconstitutional conduct and racial profiling."

Asset Forfeiture: Texas DA Seeks to Use Seized Funds to Defend Herself in Lawsuit Over Unlawful Seizure of Same Funds; ACLU Objects

The Texas district attorney accused of participating in an egregious asset forfeiture scheme in the East Texas town of Tenaha now wants to use the very cash seized to pay for her legal defense in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by victims of the practice. The ACLU of Texas, which, along with the national ACLU, is representing the plaintiffs in the case, filed a brief last Friday with the Texas Attorney General's office seeking to block her from doing so. Lynda Russell is the district attorney in Shelby County, where Tenaha is located. She is accused of participating in a scheme where Tenaha police pulled over mostly African-American motorists without cause, asked them if they were carrying cash, and if they were, threaten them with being immediately jailed for money laundering or other serious crimes unless they signed over their money to authorities. Representing a number of victims, attorneys from the ACLU of Texas and the ACLU Racial Justice Project filed a civil lawsuit in federal court in June 2008. According to the suit, more than 140 people, almost all of whom were African-American, turned over their assets to police without cause and under duress between June 2006 and June 2008. If a federal judge agrees that assets were in fact illegally seized, they should be returned to their rightful owners, whose civil rights were violated. In one case, a mixed race couple, Jennifer Boatwright and Ronald Henderson, were stopped by a Tenaha police officer in April 2007. According to the lawsuit, they were stopped without cause, detained for some time without cause, and asked if they were carrying any cash. When they admitted they had slightly more than $6,000, a district attorney's investigator then seized it, threatening them with arrest for money laundering and the loss of their children if they refused to sign off. There was never any evidence they had committed a crime, and they were never charged with a crime. The town mayor, the DA, the DA's investigator, the town marshal, and a town constable are all named in the lawsuit. While they claim to have acted legally under Texas asset forfeiture law, the lawsuit argues that "although they were taken under color of state law, their actions constitute abuse of authority." The suit argues that the racially discriminatory pattern of stops and searches violated both the Fourth Amendment proscription of warrantless searches and the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause. While either the county or the state would normally be expected to pony up for the DA's legal expenses for a lawsuit filed as a result of her performance of her duties, neither has done so. That's why Russell—with a tin ear for irony—requested that she be allowed to use the allegedly illegally seized money stolen from motorists. She has asked the state attorney general's office for an opinion on whether using the funds for her defense violates the state's asset forfeiture law. "It would be completely inappropriate for the district attorney to use assets which are the very subject of litigation charging her with participating in allegedly illegal activity to defend herself against these charges," said Lisa Graybill, legal director at the ACLU of Texas. "Texas has a long history of having its law enforcement officials unconstitutionally target racial minorities in the flawed and failed war on drugs and it is of paramount importance that those officials be held accountable." "The government must account for the misconduct of officials who operate in its name," said Vanita Gupta, staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program, who represented African-American residents of Tulia, TX in high-profile litigation challenging their wrongful convictions on drug charges. "The state of Texas has seen egregious examples of racial profiling that result from poor oversight of criminal justice officials." The ACLU of Texas is using the Tenaha case to push for asset forfeiture reform in the Lone Star State. One such bill stalled in the state legislature this year. "The misuse of asset forfeiture laws by local officials is exacerbated by inadequate oversight," said Matt Simpson, policy strategist for the group. "The legislature must squarely address these reported civil rights violations via reform of forfeiture laws that strengthen protection against unconstitutional conduct and racial profiling."
Localização: 
Tenaha, TX
United States

10 Rules for Dealing with Police

Many of our readers are familiar with the widely-viewed film Busted: The Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters, produced by the organization Flex Your Rights. The next Flex movie, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police, is set to come out before the end of the year. Filming took place in Baltimore a couple of weeks ago, and it is now in editing. Click here to check out photos; it really is looking pretty nice. narrated by the famous attorney William "Billy" H. Murphy, Jr.
Localização: 
Baltimore, MD
United States

Racial Profiling: Illinois Annual Traffic Stop Report Reprises Same Old Story

In response to complaints about racial profiling by police, law enforcement agencies in Illinois have been required to report on traffic stops since 2004. Every year, the report has found that minority drivers are asked to consent to unwarranted searches at a higher rate than whites, but that police are actually more likely to find contraband in consent searches with white drivers than minorities. The 2008 Traffic Stop Study annual report, released earlier this month, is no different.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/njturnpike.jpg
enter at peril of profiling
The study found that minority drivers were 13% more likely to be stopped than whites, with blacks slightly more likely than Hispanics to be stopped. Blacks were three times more likely to be asked to consent to a search than whites; for Hispanics, that figure was 2.4 times. But contraband was found in only 15.4% of searches of minority-driven vehicles, compared to 24.7% of those with white drivers.

"The fact is every single year we see these same numbers," Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the ACLU of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune. "There is just a predisposition to believe minorities have contraband... The data and the indisputable nature of this is exactly what the president was talking about the other night."

Yohnka was referring to President Obama's remarks on the arrest of black scholar Henry Louis Gates by a white police officer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, last week. As a state senator, Obama led the push for the racial profiling reports. On Wednesday night, he alluded to that work in his remarks on the Gates arrest.

One thing that is different is that the number of consent searches is on the decline. The 2008 figure of 25,471 consent searches (out of 2.5 million traffic stops) is a 33% reduction since 2004.

That's a step in the right direction, but only a small step as far as the ACLU and other civil libertarians and civil rights activists are concerned. They want the state to end the use of consent searches altogether, as has been done by the California Highway Patrol.

Feature: The Kids Are Alright -- The SSDP 10th International Conference

Buoyed by this month's election results and jazzed by the prospects for change with a new administration in Washington, some 450 student activists converged on the University of Maryland campus in College Park last weekend to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) at the group's annual international conference.

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first evening gathering (photo courtesy DrugWarRant.com)
Hosted by University of Maryland SSDP, traditionally one of the national group's staunchest chapters, the conference saw students come from across the nation and at least two foreign countries for three days of education, training in effective activism, and hands-on lobbying on Capitol Hill. Among the attendees were representatives of Canadian SSDP, buoyed by their own national conference, the organization's second, attended by 250 people earlier this month.

For both SSDP veterans and newcomers alike, the conference provided opportunities for networking, inspiration, and education. For some of the younger attendees, it was an eye-opener.

"I didn't realize how many people were involved in this," said SSDP national office intern Ericha Richards, a freshman at American University. "It's exciting!"

Jimmy Devine of Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire has been attending for several years, but still found plenty to get excited about. "It's always good to come to national, to see what the other chapters have been up to, and to meet old friends," he said. "And we're always looking for new ideas to take back with us."

On Friday, led by Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) lobbyist Aaron Houston, the students spent the morning polishing up on lobbying basics, then visited with representatives or their staffers to push for reductions in the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity. Students reported mixed results, but that's no surprise, and even with representatives on the wrong side of the issues, lobbying is part of changing minds -- and votes.

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Rep. Danny Davis (photo courtesy DrugWarRant.com)
On Saturday and Sunday, students gathered at the University of Maryland student union for two days of panels and training in activism. Saturday morning, they heard from movement leaders, who described the chances of drug reform at the federal level in coming years with varying degrees of optimism. With the Democratic sweep of the presidency and the Congress, the prospects have improved, but big obstacles remain, the students heard.

"This election was about change," said MPP's Houston. "It's a very exciting time, so why aren't we doing back flips?" he asked. Drug reform may get short shrift in an Obama administration faced with a free-falling economy and foreign crises, Houston answered himself. "We're walking into favorable conditions, but there are a lot of issues facing Obama and the Congress."

But the economic crisis could lead to opportunity, he said. "We have huge economic problems, and this could be the time to start talking about taxing and regulating marijuana. That could generate $10 to $14 billion a year for the federal treasury," he said.

"Change is going to happen," said Adam Wolf of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. Wolf ticked off an ACLU reform wish list of rescheduling marijuana, ending the government monopoly on growing marijuana for research purposes, ending the selective prosecution of medical marijuana patients and providers, abolishing the crack/powder sentencing disparity, and banning racial profiling.

"I'm hugely optimistic about the prospects for change in Congress," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), citing support for ending the federal funding ban on syringe exchange and reducing or eliminating the crack/powder sentencing disparity among highly placed Democrats. "We are over the hump," the Capitol Hill veteran said. "People are not afraid any more to talk about drug policy, and we have key committee chairs on our side. We will repeal the syringe ban and reduce sentencing disparities," he predicted.

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police militarization panel, featuring Reason's Radley Balko, StoptheDrugWar.org executive director David Borden, SWAT raid victim Mayor Cheye Calvo of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, moderated by Alison Grimmer of Roosevelt University SSDP
But Piper was also looking just a bit further down the road then next year's Congress. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office) comes up for reauthorization in 2010, he noted. Rather than try futilely to eliminate the office, "we can try to shift ONDCP's goals" to a more public health-oriented approach, he suggested.

"Marijuana is more popular than the past three presidents," MPP executive director Rob Kampia told a cheering audience as he recounted this year's victories for medical marijuana in Michigan and decriminalization in Massachusetts.

Student activists took no back seat to the professionals, though, and the breadth of reform efforts by SSDP chapters, and number of campuses leading or helping with them was impressive. Conference-goers got to hear about campus campaigns ranging from establishing safe ride programs (reducing intoxicated driving without exposing students to threat of penalty); good Samaritan overdose policies (neither the student needing medical help nor the student reporting it facing threat of arrest); getting schools to stop calling police into dorms for drug infractions; reforming dorm eviction policies for substance violations; working with ballot initiative campaigns such as those in Michigan and Berkeley; public education efforts; and state lobbying campaign; among others.

One chapter, Kalamazoo College in Michigan, seemed to have done almost everything, and all during its first year. At the annual Awards Banquet, where representatives received the Outstanding Chapter Award, a raft of impressive achievements were listed off in the introduction. Not only did Kalamazoo SSDP get a safe ride program established, and Good Samaritan and not calling police into dorms for minor drug violation policies established. They also went outside the campus to bring together a coalition of community groups, government agencies and law enforcement to get approval for a needle exchange program in the city for the first time.

One highlight of the conference was the Saturday lunch debate between SSDP executive director Kris Krane and Kevin Sabet of Students Taking Action Not Drugs. The back and forth between the two, moderated by Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy, kept the audience rapt -- and scoring the debate like a boxing match.

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Krane/Sabet debate, Washington Post's Courtland Milloy moderating
Sabet, in what must have felt like hostile territory, did his best to try to establish "common ground" with drug reformers, citing his support for addressing the crack/powder disparity and qualifying some of drug czar John Walters' policies as "stupid politics." He also cited as models programs like North Carolina's Project HOPE, where probationers and parolees confronted by positive drug tests are not sent back to prison, but are hit with quick, short jail stays. "That's a huge motivation," Sabet argued.

If Sabet was looking for agreement from Krane or the audience, he didn't find much of it. "Our metrics in the war on drugs are wrong," said Krane. "We should be measuring abuse, problem use, infection rates -- not drug use rates," he argued. "You have to get arrested to get treatment, and that's backwards," he said.

Instead of being based on the Holy Grail of reducing drug use, drug policy should have different guiding principles, Krane argued. "First, no one should be punished for using drugs absent harm to others. Second, we should adopt a harm reduction framework, and third, we should adopt a human rights framework."

"Drug use doesn't occur in a vacuum," Sabet retorted. "A lot of drug use is problematic, and some of that can be addressed by dealing with poverty, health care, and homelessness. There is common ground," he tried again.

Not so quick, Krane replied, arguing that drug use should be treated as a public health problem, not the purview of law enforcement.

"Drug trafficking is not a public health problem, it's a law enforcement problem," Sabet countered.

"Drug trafficking is a prohibition problem, not a law enforcement problem," Krane retorted to cheers from the crowd.

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David Guard and Pete Guither prepare for ''Elevator Arguments'' panel
After the spirited back and forth between Sabet and Krane, attendees were treated to an address by Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), who zeroed in on racial disparities in drug law enforcement. "One of the most egregious aspects of our drug policy is the racial inequity," he said, reeling off the now familiar statistics about African-Americans sucked into the drug war incarceration machine and urging support for re-entry and rehabilitation efforts for prisoners. "If we can reduce crime and recidivism, if we can help these prisoners, if we can train and educate them, we are helping all of America," Davis said.

Davis, too, pronounced himself optimistic. "There is a sense of hope that we can develop a sane policy in the way we treat drugs," he told the students, "but you have to stay engaged and involved. You have to believe change is not only possible, it's inevitable."

If Saturday was a day of panelists and speechifying, Sunday was for getting down to nuts and bolts as the young activists attended a plethora of sessions hosted by more experienced veterans. Students heard presentations on best practices for chapter organizing, fundraising, making quick reform arguments, networking, working the media, and working with youth communities, and looking beyond campus reform, among others. And the lunch session was a working one, with activists dividing up geographically and deciding on locations for regional conferences to be held in the spring.

From its beginning with a handful of students in the Northeast in 1998 outraged by the Higher Education Act's drug provision, SSDP has grown to an international organization with 140 campus chapters in the US, as well as Canada, the United Kingdom and Nigeria. With all they learned at this year's conference, the newest generation of drug reform activists is now headed back home to spread the message and the movement to the next generation.

Visit the Drug WarRant blog for Pete Guither's seven-part series of live-written reports from the conference.


UMD SSDP window, Stamp Student Center

Feature: Looking Forward -- The Prospects for Drug Reform in Obama's Washington

The political landscape in Washington, DC, is undergoing a dramatic shift as the Democratic tide rolls in, and, after eight years of drug war status quo under the Republicans, drug reformers are now hoping the change in administrations will lead to positive changes in federal drug policies. As with every other aspect of federal policy, groups interested in criminal justice and drug policy reform are coming out of the woodwork with their own recommendations for Obama and the Democratic Congress. This week, we will look at some of those proposals and attempt to assess the prospects for real change.

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The White House
One of the most comprehensive criminal justice reform proposals, of which drug-related reform is only a small part, comes from a nonpartisan consortium of organizations and individuals coordinated by the Constitution Project, including groups such as the Sentencing Project, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), and the Open Society Policy Center. The set of proposals, Smart on Crime: Recommendations for the Next Administration and Congress, includes the following recommendations:

  • Mandatory Minimum Reforms:
    Eliminate the crack cocaine sentencing disparity
    Improve and expand the federal "safety valve"
    Create a sunset provision on existing and new mandatory minimums
    Clarify that the 924(c) recidivism provisions apply only to true repeat offenders
  • Alternatives to Incarceration:
    Expand alternatives to incarceration in federal sentencing guidelines
    Enact a deferred adjudication statute
    Support alternatives to incarceration through expansion of federal drug and other problem solving courts.
  • Incentives and Sentencing Management
    Expand the Residential Drug Abuse Program (RDAP)
    Clarify good time credit
    Expand the amount of good time conduct credit prisoners may receive and ways they can receive it
    Enhance sentence reductions for extraordinary and compelling circumstances
    Expand elderly prisoners release program
    Revive executive clemency
  • Promoting Fairness and Addressing Disparity:
    Support racial impact statements as a means of reducing unwarranted sentencing disparities
    Support analysis of racial and ethnic disparity in the federal justice system
    Add a federal public defender as an ex officio member of the United States Sentencing Commission

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also issued a set of recommendations, Actions for Restoring America: How to Begin Repairing the Damage to Freedom in America Under Bush, which include some drug reform provisions:

  • Crack/Powder Sentencing: The attorney general should revise the US Attorneys' Manual to require that crack offenses are charged as "cocaine" and not "cocaine base," effectively resulting in elimination of the disparity.
  • Medical Marijuana: Halt the use of Justice Department funds to arrest and prosecute medical marijuana users in states with current laws permitting access to physician-supervised medical marijuana. In particular, the US Attorney general should update the US Attorneys' Manual to de-prioritize the arrest and prosecution of medical marijuana users in medical marijuana states. There is currently no regulation in place to be amended or repealed; there is, of course, a federal statutory scheme that prohibits marijuana use unless pursuant to approved research. But US Attorneys have broad charging discretion in determining what types of cases to prosecute, and with drugs, what threshold amounts that will trigger prosecution. The US Attorneys' Manual contains guidelines promulgated by the Attorney general and followed by US Attorneys and their assistants.
  • The DEA Administrator should grant Lyle Craker's application for a Schedule I license to produce research-grade medical marijuana for use in DEA- and FDA-approved studies. This would only require DEA to approve the current recommendation of its own Administrative Law Judge.
  • All relevant agencies should stop denying the existence of medical uses of marijuana -- as nearly one-third of states have done by enacting laws -- and therefore, under existing legal criteria, reclassify marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule V.
  • Issue an executive order stating that, "No veteran shall be denied care solely on the basis of using marijuana for medical purposes in compliance with state law." Although there are many known instances of veterans being denied care as a result of medical marijuana use, we have not been able to identify a specific regulation that mandates or authorizes this policy.
  • Federal Racial Profiling: Issue an executive order prohibiting racial profiling by federal officers and banning law enforcement practices that disproportionately target people for investigation and enforcement based on race, ethnicity, national origin, sex or religion. Include in the order a mandate that federal agencies collect data on hit rates for stops and searches, and that such data be disaggregated by group. DOJ should issue guidelines regarding the use of race by federal law enforcement agencies. The new guidelines should clarify that federal law enforcement officials may not use race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, or sex to any degree, except that officers may rely on these factors in a specific suspect description as they would any noticeable characteristic of a subject.

Looking to the south, the Latin America Working Group, a coalition of nonprofit groups, has issued a petition urging Obama "to build a just policy towards Latin America and the Caribbean that unites us with our neighbors." Included in its proposals are:

  • Actively work for peace in Colombia. In a war that threatens to go on indefinitely, the immense suffering of the civilian population demands that the United States takes risks to achieve peace. If the United States is to actively support peace, it must stop endlessly bankrolling war and help bring an end to the hemisphere's worst humanitarian crisis.
  • Get serious -- and smart -- about drug policy. Our current drug policy isn't only expensive and ineffective, it's also inhumane. Instead of continuing a failed approach that brings soldiers into Latin America's streets and fields, we must invest in alternative development projects in the Andes and drug treatment and prevention here at home.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has some suggestions as well. As NORML's Paul Armentano wrote last week on Alternet:

  • President Obama must uphold his campaign promise to cease the federal arrest and prosecution of (state) law-abiding medical cannabis patients and dispensaries by appointing leaders at the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the US Department of Justice, and the US Attorney General's office who will respect the will of the voters in the thirteen states that have legalized the physician-supervised use of medicinal marijuana.
  • President Obama should use the power of the bully pulpit to reframe the drug policy debate from one of criminal policy to one of public health. Obama can stimulate this change by appointing directors to the Office of National Drug Control Policy who possess professional backgrounds in public health, addiction, and treatment rather than in law enforcement.
  • President Obama should follow up on statements he made earlier in his career in favor of marijuana decriminalization by establishing a bi-partisan presidential commission to review the budgetary, social, and health costs associated with federal marijuana prohibition, and to make progressive recommendations for future policy changes.

Clearly, the drug reform community and its allies see the change of administrations as an opportunity to advance the cause. The question is how receptive will the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress be to drug reform efforts.

"We've examined Obama's record and his statements, and 90% of it is good," said David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter). "But we don't know what he intends to do in office. There is an enormous amount of good he can do," Borden said, mentioning opening up funding for needle exchange programs, US Attorney appointments, and stopping DEA raids on medical marijuana providers. "Will Obama make some attempt to actualize the progressive drug reform positions he has taken? He has a lot on his plate, and drug policy reform has tended to be the first thing dropped by left-leaning politicians."

There will be some early indicators of administration interest in drug reform, said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We will be watching to see if he issues an executive order stopping the DEA raids; that would be a huge sign," he said. "He could also repeal the needle exchange funding ban. The congressional ban would still be in place, but that would show some great leadership. If they started taking on drug policy issues in the first 100 days, that would be a great sign, but I don't think people should expect that. There are many other issues, and it's going to take awhile just to clean up Bush's mess. I'm optimistic, but I don't expect big changes to come quickly."

"We are hoping to see a new direction," said Nkechi Taifa, senior policy analyst for civil and criminal justice reform for the Open Society Policy Center. "We couldn't have a better scenario with the incoming vice president having sponsored the one-to-one crack/powder bill in the Senate and the incoming president being a sponsor. And we have a situation in Congress, and particularly in the Senate, where there is bipartisan interest in sentencing reform. Both sides of the aisle want some sort of movement on this, it's been studied and vetted, and now Congress needs to do the right thing. It's time to get smart on crime, and this is not a radical agenda. As far as I'm concerned, fixing the crack/powder disparity is the compromise, and elimination of mandatory minimums is what really needs to be on the agenda."

"With the Smart on Crime proposals, we tried to focus on what was feasible," said the Sentencing Project's Kara Gotsch. "These are items where we think we are likely to get support, where the community has demonstrated support, or where there has been legislation proposed to deal with these issues. It prioritizes the issues we think are most likely to move, and crack sentencing reform is on that list."

The marijuana reform groups are more narrowly focused, of course, but they, too are looking for positive change. "Obama has made it very clear on the campaign trail that he disagrees with the use of federal agencies to undo medical marijuana laws in states that have passed them," said Dan Bernath, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. "He has vowed to stop that. Obama seems to be someone who values facts and reasoned decision-making. If he applies that to marijuana policy, that could be a good thing".

While the list of possible drug reforms is long and varied, it is also notable for what has not been included. Only NORML even mentions marijuana decriminalization, and no one is talking about ending the drug war -- only making it a bit kinder and gentler. The L-word remains unutterable.

"While we're optimistic about reducing the harms of prohibition, legalization is not something that I think they will take on," said Piper. "But any movement toward drug reform is good. If we can begin to shift to a more health-oriented approach, that will change how Americans think about this issue and create a space where regulation can be discussed in a a rational manner. Now, because of our moralist criminal justice framework, it is difficult to have a sane discussion about legalization."

"We didn't talk that much about legalization," said Gotsch in reference to the Smart on Crime proposals. "A lot of organizations involved have more ambitious goals, but that wouldn't get the kind of reaction we want. There just isn't the political support yet for legalization, even of marijuana."

"We should be talking about legalization, yes," said StoptheDrugWar.org's Borden, "but should we be talking about it in communications to the new president who has shown no sign of supporting it? Not necessarily. We must push the envelope, but if we push it too far in lobbying communications to national leadership, we risk losing their attention."

"I do think it would be a mistake to blend that kind of caution into ideological caution over what we are willing to talk about at all," Borden continued. "I think we should be talking about legalization, it's just a question of when and where," he argued.

Talking legalization is premature, said Eric Sterling, formerly counsel to the US House Judiciary Committee and now president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "What we are not yet doing as a movement is building upon our successes," he said. "We just saw medical marijuana win overwhelmingly in Michigan and decriminalization in Massachusetts, but the nation's commentariat has not picked up on it, and our movement has not been sufficiently aggressive in getting those votes translated into the political discourse. We haven't broken out of the making fun phase of marijuana policy yet."

Sterling pointed in particular to the medical marijuana issue. "Everyone recognizes that the state-federal conflict on medical marijuana is a major impediment, and we have 26 senators representing medical marijuana states, but not a single senator has introduced a medical marijuana bill," he said. "It's an obvious area for legislative activity in the Senate, but it hasn't happened. This suggests that we as a movement still lack the political muscle even on something as uncontroversial as the medical use of marijuana."

Even the apparent obvious targets for reform, such as the crack/powder sentencing disparity, are going to require a lot of work, said Sterling. "It will continue to be a struggle," he said. "The best crack bill was Biden's, cosponsored by Obama and Clinton, but I'm not sure who is going to pick that up this year. The sentencing reform community continues to struggle to frame the issue as effective law enforcement, and I think it's only on those terms that we can win."

Reformers also face the reality that the politics of crime continues to be a sensitive issue for the majority Democrats, Sterling said. "Crime is an issue members are frightened about, and it's an area where Republicans traditionally feel they have the upper ground. The Democrats are going to be reluctant to open themselves up to attack in areas where there is not a strong political upside. On many issues, Congress acts when there is a clear universe of allies who will benefit and who are pushing for action. I don't know if we are there yet."

Change is the mantra of the Obama administration, and change is what the drug reform community is hoping for. Now, the community must act to ensure that change happens, and that the right changes happen.

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