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Today is the 34th anniversary of the signing of New York's infamous Rockefeller Drug Laws

[Courtesy of the William Moses Kunstler Fund for Racial Justice, Inc. and Tony Papa] Today, May 8, marks the 34 year anniversary of the signing of New York's infamous Rockefeller Drug Laws. In December of 2004 the laws were mildly modified but continue unabated to wreak untold havoc on poor communities of color across the Empire State. Below is a link to a powerful and edifying video/song written and performed by Hip-Hop megastar Jim Jones calling on Governor Spitzer to reform the cruel and unusual, and racially applied Rockefeller Drug Laws (now the Elliot Spitzer drug laws). The video serves as trailer for the newly released documentary Lockdown USA. Moreover, we have included a compelling editorial that appeared this week in the Huffington Post. The editorial was written by artist/activist and Rockefeller Drug Law survivor Anthony Papa. In the editorial, Mr. Papa urges not only the Governor Spitzer but also Lt. Governor David Patterson in particular NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to use their offices to follow through on their past commitment to push for the REPEAL of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Mr. Cuomo is one of the four major figures featured in the Lockdown USA documentary. All three public officials have been silent on the issue since their respective inaugurations. Mr. Papa, formerly of Mothers of the NY Disappeared, is now a media specialist for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). DPA has worked closely with the NY Mothers and the Kunstler Fund for the past 9 years in the popular movement to repeal the Rockefeller Drug Laws.( Jim Jones Lockdown, USA Song Huffington Post Spitzer, Cuomo and Paterson: Where Did You Go? by Anthony Papa May 8 marks the 34th anniversary of New York's Rockefeller Drug Laws. Despite a few recent reforms, which in theory would fix the draconian nature of these laws, little has been done and the campaign for meaningful reform continues. In fact, out of the current 13,000 Rockefeller prisoners, fewer than 300 have been freed under the revisions to date. In recent elections, a number of officials who went on record in support of real Rockefeller reform were voted into office. Governor Elliot Spitzer, for one, along with Lt. Governor David Paterson and Attorney General Cuomo all have spoken out for reform in the past. But now they are surprisingly silent on the issue. In 2004, I wrote a memoir of my experiences serving a 15-to-life sentence under these harsh laws. Andrew Cuomo, before he became our state's attorney general, threw a book release party for me at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Attending the event were prominent individuals like Senator David Paterson, along with many other influential guests. Cuomo and Paterson spoke bravely about changing these draconian laws. Spitzer, the then-attorney general of New York, did not attend but wrote a letter saying that my story was a "very personal and tragic story, like those of so many other nonviolent offenders languishing in our prisons on relatively minor drug offenses," and that it "illustrates the impact that our Rockefeller Drug Laws have had on a generation of New Yorkers. I applaud Mr. Papa's courage in speaking out and sharing his ordeal with the world." It was a moving event that generated a vision of changing the Rockefeller Drug Laws in a positive way. I find it strange that the people who had supported change in the past have now become so silent on the issue. My question is why do politicians who use political platforms to generate votes suddenly forget their past when elected to higher office? Governor Elliot Spitzer, does appear interested in correcting the criminal justice sector, as evidenced by his success in removing exorbitant charges on collect calls made by prisoners to their families, and his recent attempt to downsize half-empty prisons. But his laudable efforts have not cued in on the Rockefeller reform. Attorney General Andrew Cuomo who has used this issue in the past to revive his political career has not uttered a word about it. And Lt. Governor David Paterson who represented a highly affected Harlem district as senator has steered away from the issue. Last week the New York State Assembly passed a bill for further reform of the Rockefeller Drug laws. Cheri O'Donoghue joined them at a press conference and talked about her son Ashley who is serving a 7 to 21 sentence for a first time non-violent drug offense. This mother grieved for the son she had lost to laws that had taken away her relationship with him. She asked why the Rockefeller Drug Laws had now not been a priority with so many politicians that had benefited from them in the past. No one could answer her question. It's time for Spitzer, Paterson and Cuomo to join the NYS Assembly and step up to the plate. They should remember their past intentions, especially when it affects the people who voted them into office.
United States

Racial Discrimination in the U.S. Criminal Justice System and International Human Rights Standards: Reporting to CERD

Please join us in Washington, D.C. for a meeting bringing together criminal justice advocates from around the U.S. to discuss racial discrimination in the U.S. criminal justice system as it relates to the UN Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The U.S. Government has just filed a report to the UN Committee that oversees the treaty on its efforts to end racial discrimination in the U.S. Non-governmental organizations now have an opportunity to provide input to the Committee regarding U.S. compliance through "shadow reports." Hear from experts on racism in the juvenile justice system, racial discrimination in law enforcement and the courts, racism and the death penalty, and the destructive impact of mass incarceration on communities of color -- confirmed panelists include Paul Butler (George Washington University Law School); Jenni Gainsborough (Penal Reform International); Ron Hampton (National Black Police Association); Hadar Harris (Center for Human Rights, American University Washington College of Law); Margaret Huang (Global Rights); Marc Mauer (The Sentencing Project); Bryan Stevenson (Equal Justice Initiative); Randolph Stone (Chicago University Law School); and others. Learn more about the Shadow Reporting Process and how you can get involved. Co-sponsored by Global Rights, Open Society Institute Justice Roundtable, The Sentencing Project, Penal Reform International and the WCL Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. The conference is free and open to the public but registration is required as space is limited. To register for the conference see or call 202-274-4075. For more information, please contact Hadar Harris at [email protected] or Margaret Huang at [email protected].
Thu, 05/17/2007 - 9:00am - 5:30pm
4801 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Room 603
Washington, DC 20016
United States

Through A Different Lens: Shifting the Focus on Illinois Drug Policy

The Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy is pleased to invite you to a report briefing entitled Through A Different Lens: Shifting the Focus on Illinois Drug Policy, An examination of states’ solutions and applicability to Illinois What group is the fastest growing segment of the Illinois prison population? · Illinois' per capita rate of African-Americans incarcerated for drug possession offenses was first in the country, leading Mississippi, Maryland and Ohio. Is there a relationship between Illinois’ drug policy changes and the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans? · This paper highlights Illinois legislative changes, incarceration rates, & the impact on the criminal justice system in Illinois. Attending is free. Please RSVP by May 21st via calling 312.341.2457, and leave your name and number of attendees planning to attend the event.
Tue, 05/22/2007 - 10:30am - 11:30am
430 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL
United States

Judge questions police methods, effectiveness of drug war

United States
The Palm Beach Post (FL)

Feature: Guilty Pleas Only the Beginning in Aftermath of Atlanta "Drug Raid" Killing of 92-Year Old

Last Thursday, two Atlanta narcotics officers pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges in the shooting death of an elderly woman during a botched drug raid, but that is just the beginning in what looks to be an ever-expanding investigation into misconduct in the Atlanta narcotics squad. A federal investigation is already underway, and yesterday, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, called on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to launch a thorough investigation of issues raised by the case, including police misconduct, the use of confidential informants, arrest quotas, and the credibility of police officials.
Kathryn Johnston
Things began to unravel for the Atlanta Police Department's 16-man street narcotics team on November 21, when three Atlanta narcs broke into the home of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston using a "no-knock" warrant that claimed drug sales had taken place there. The elderly Johnston responded to the intruders dressed in plain clothes by firing one shot from an old pistol, which missed the officers. The narcs responded with a barrage of bullets, firing 39 shots, five or six of which hit Johnston, who died shortly afterward.

Since then, investigators have found that in the Johnston case:

  • The narcotics officers planted drugs to arrest a suspected drug dealer, who in turn pointed them toward Johnston's residence.
  • The narcotics officers lied on their search warrant application, saying that a confidential informant had bought drugs at that address when that did not happen.
  • The narcotics officers lied on their search warrant application, saying the house was occupied by a large man who employed surveillance cameras.
  • The narcotics officers planted marijuana in Johnston's basement after they shot her in order to bolster their case and impugn her reputation.
  • The narcotics officers asked another confidential informant to lie for them after the fact and say he had bought drugs at Johnston's residence.

But that confidential informant, Alexis White, instead went to the feds with his story (and this week, he went to Washington, DC, to talk to congressional leaders about snitching), and the fabric of lies woven by the Atlanta narcs rapidly unraveled. Last Wednesday, three of them, Officers Gregg Junnier, Jason Smith, and Arthur Tesler, were indicted on numerous state charges, including murder, as well as federal civil rights charges. The following day, Junnier and Smith pleaded guilty to a state charge of manslaughter, with sentencing to be postponed until after the federal investigation is complete. They face up to 10 years on the manslaughter charge and up to life in prison on the federal civil rights charge.

But the problems in the Atlanta narcotics squad run deeper than one incident of misconduct. According to federal investigators, what the Atlanta narcs did during the botched Johnston raid was business as usual.

"Junnier and other officers falsified affidavits for search warrants to be considered productive officers and to meet APD's performance targets," according to a federal exhibit released Thursday. "They believed that these ends justified their illegal 'Fluffing' or falsifying of search warrants. Because they obtained search warrants based on unreliable and false information, [the officers] had on occasion searched residences where there were no drugs and the occupants were not drug dealers."

Cutting corners, though, can have serious consequences. As prosecutors noted, once the narcs had received a tip there were drugs at Johnston's residence, Officer Junnier said they could get a confidential informant to make a buy there to ensure there actually were drugs at that location. "Or not," Smith allegedly responded.

At a news conference last Thursday, FBI Atlanta Special Agent in Charge Greg Jones called the officers' conduct "deplorable." In an ominous addendum, Jones added that the agency will pursue "additional allegations of corruption that other Atlanta police officers may have engaged in similar conduct."

US Attorney David Nahmias said Johnston's death was "almost inevitable" because of such widespread activity and vowed a far-reaching investigation into departmental practices. He said he expects to find other cases where officers lied or relied on bad information. "It's a very ongoing investigation into just how wide the culture of misconduct extends," Nahmias said. "We'll dig until we can find whatever we can."

And now, House Judiciary Committee head Rep. Conyers wants to ensure that the feds dig deep. In a letter released yesterday, Conyers told Attorney General Gonzales:

"There are several key issues raised by the Johnston case: police misconduct (falsifying information and excessive use of force); misuse of confidential informants; potentially negative impact of arrest quotas and performance measures; and the integrity and credibility of law enforcement officials. We are particularly concerned about the misuse of confidential informants. The reliability of confidential informants used in narcotics cases is often compromised because they are cooperating with law enforcement in order to extricate themselves from criminal charges. The absence of corroboration requirements for information obtained through confidential informants leaves room for abuse. All these factors can have the effect of eroding public confidence in the criminal justice system.

"We are concerned that the Atlanta incident may be indicative of a systemic problem within the Atlanta Police Department. Additionally, we are disturbed that the actions of the Atlanta Police Department may be a reflection of conduct used in other jurisdictions throughout this country. Significantly, the number of "no knock raids" has increased from three thousand in 1981 to more than fifty thousand in 2005."

Former New Jersey narcotics officer and current head of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition Jack Cole shares Conyers' concerns. "I think this kind of thing is going on across the country," he told Drug War Chronicle. "If anyone really dug into this, you would find similar things in a lot of departments. It's about using a war on drugs metaphor. When you have a war, you need an enemy, someone despicable, so you can do whatever you want to them," he said. "We train our police to feel like they have to win at any cost because it's a war."

Maybe, just maybe, the federal investigation into the Atlanta narcs will morph into the kind of hearings on drug war policing that are long, long overdue. If not, at least Kathryn Johnston has won a measure of justice.

Feature: US Sentencing Commission Announces Reduction in Crack Cocaine Sentences

In an annual report sent to Congress Monday, the US Sentencing Commission announced it had amended federal sentencing guidelines to lower the sentences imposed on people convicted of federal crack cocaine offenses. Unless Congress takes affirmative action to block the move, it will go into effect on November 1. The report also urged Congress to address the 100:1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences.
The tragic death of basketball star Len Bias in the 1980s prompted passage of the harsh crack sentencing law. But Bias actually overdosed on powder cocaine. (photo from ONDCP's ''Pushing Back'' web site)
Under the controversial crack laws, people convicted of distribution offenses involving five grams of the drug face five-year mandatory minimum prison sentences, while it takes 500 grams of powder cocaine to trigger the same penalty. Similarly, someone convicted of distributing more than 50 grams of crack faces a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, while it would take five kilograms of powder cocaine to get the 10 years.

But while the congressionally mandated sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine is extreme, federal sentencing guidelines make it even worse for the low-level offenders caught under the federal crack laws. The guidelines currently call for a sentencing range of 63 to 78 months for five grams and 121 to 151 months for 50 grams. In both cases, the bottom of the guideline range falls above the mandatory minimum sentence set by Congress.

In an April 27 meeting, the Sentencing Commission voted to reduce the guideline ranges to 51 to 63 months and 97 to 121 months, respectively. Under this scheme, what is currently the low end of the guideline range will become the top end. According to the commission, 78% of federal crack defendants will benefit from the change, with sentence reductions averaging 16 months. With some 5,000 people being convicted under the federal crack laws each year, the move will have an impact.

That is, unless Congress moves to block it. On four previous occasions, the Sentencing Commission has recommended changes to lessen the gap between powder and crack cocaine offenses, but Congress blocked each of those initiatives. It also punished the commission for its temerity in suggesting that the crack-powder disparity be eliminated in 1995 by allowing the commission to dwindle to one member.

"The Commission has long recognized that the current guidelines scheme is unjust, and an amendment is long overdue," said Carmen Hernandez, president-elect of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys (NACDL) in a speech responding to the sentencing changes. "Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fact that 83% of inmates serving time in the federal system for crack cocaine are minorities, and their sentences are more than 50% longer than inmates serving time for cocaine powder, even though crack defendants tend to be low-level street dealers. In fact, the average sentence for possession of crack cocaine is far longer than the average sentences for violent crimes such as robbery and sexual abuse," she noted.

"NACDL urges Congress to respect the Commission's decision, which was made after consideration of the testimony and evidence that it has reviewed at Congress' direction for more than a decade and allow these amendments to go into effect," the group said in a press release. "We also recommend to Congress that it carefully consider the reports and evidence the Commission has compiled."

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a group whose name is self-explanatory, greeted the amendment by noting that is "has been a long time coming." FAMM noted that the commission considered the sentencing change as "a modest step toward alleviating some of the disparity in sentencing of crack defendants but it is not a solution to the problem because Congress needs to address the mandatory minimum sentencing statutes, over which the Commission has no control." The group will urge Congress to take action to further reform crack mandatory minimums, it said.
federal prison dorm
"This is a pretend reform; it isn't enough," said Nora Callahan, executive director of the November Coalition, a drug reform group concentrating on freeing drug war prisoners. "This is dramatically less than what the commission asked for in 1994, and it is just heartbreaking that we haven't come any further than this. They think they can throw us a bone and we'll calm down for another 10 years, but we're not going to calm down," she told Drug War Chronicle.

The Sentencing Commission has been cowed by Congress and should be revamped, Callahan said. "We need a brand new, independent commission that can't be intimidated," she argued. "When this commission recommended dramatic reform a few years ago, Congress not only didn't do it, but it spanked them hard and ended up politicizing the commission, and the commission learned its lesson: Just ask for a little bit and tell Congress 'you fix it,'" she said.

A new commission should be modeled on police oversight boards and state sentencing commissions, Callahan suggested. It should include former prisoners and family members, too. "These people need to be on the commission, as do the people who are dealing with all the offenders coming back into the community," she said.

While Congress has for the past two decades given little heed to concerns about the crack-powder sentencing disparity and its disproportionate impact on minority communities, there could be some movement this year, said Bill Piper, head of government relations for the Drug Policy Alliance.

"Rep. Rangel introduced a bill months ago that would eliminate the disparity," he told the Chronicle. "And Sen. Sessions has told the press he will introduce some sort of reform bill at some point. I suspect that now that the full report has come out, there will probably be some hearings. Rep. Conyers has suggested that might happen, but no hearing dates have been set yet," he explained.

"My sense is that the stars are starting to align themselves in a very good way," Piper prophesied. "There is interest in this in both the House and Senate judiciary committees, including among some Republicans. Now, the Sentencing Commission report is in. It is just a matter of when the process will start and finish," he said. "Still, I don't think anyone believes we will see it actually pass this year, and if it did, Bush would veto it."

While it appears unlikely Congress will act to redress the inequities of the federal crack laws this year, it seems equally unlikely to move affirmatively to block the Sentencing Commission's minor sentencing reform. Now, after two decades that have seen thousands of young black and brown people sent up the river for years for picayune crack offenses, it looks like the tide is beginning to turn.

Feature: Blacks, Hispanics More Likely to Be Searched at Traffic Stops -- But That Is Not Proof of Racial Profiling, Justice Department Claims

While police stop white, black, and Hispanic drivers at similar rates, members of the latter two groups are much more likely to be subjected to a roadside search, according to a new report on citizen-police encounters from the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). But BJS refused to conclude that the difference in search rates is caused by racial profiling, saying other factors could be at play.
"While the survey found that black and Hispanic drivers were more likely than whites to be searched, such racial disparities do not necessarily demonstrate that police treat people differently based on race or other demographic characteristics," BJS noted in a press release announcing the report. "This study did not take into account other factors that might explain these disparities."

Civil liberties advocates contend that the report is flawed and that BJS is pulling its shots. They point not only to missing data in the current report, but also to political interference in the Justice Department on earlier reports, including a controversial 2005 report on racial profiling that was buried after then BJS head Lawrence Greenfeld refused to remove information about racial profiling. Greenfeld was shortly after forced from his position.

The current report studied police-citizen interactions in 2005 and found that 43 million Americans, or 19% of the population, had some form of interaction with a police officer that year. Some 18 million of them were for traffic stops.

In those traffic stops, only 3.6% of white drivers pulled over were searched, compared to 8.8% of Hispanics and 9.5% of blacks. Blacks were also more than twice as likely as whites to be arrested during a traffic stop and nearly four times as likely to report being subjected to force, while Hispanics faced a 50% higher chance than whites of being arrested and were nearly twice as likely to be subjected to force.

Even when police searched motorists' vehicles, they were unlikely to find anything. Fully 88% of all vehicle searches resulted in no contraband found. In previous reports, BJS published figures on "hit rates," or successful searches, by motorists' race, but it did not include that critical information in this year's report.

"The omission of data on hit rate by race is a glaring omission," said Scott Morgan, associate director of the Fourth Amendment education group Flex Your Rights. "Racial profiling apologists will first argue that there is no such thing as racial profiling, and when you refute that, they revert to the argument that profiling is justified by higher levels of criminal activity," he told Drug War Chronicle. "Hit rate data is crucial to refuting the argument that this discriminatory treatment of minorities is justified by their behavior."

Previous versions of the BJS report have found that police were less -- not more -- likely to find drugs or other contraband in vehicles driven by minority drivers than by white drivers. The lack of such data in the current report is a serious problem, said Reginald Shuford, senior staff attorney for the ACLU's Racial Justice Program.

"Many studies have concluded that despite being more likely to be searched by police, African American and Hispanic drivers are actually less likely to be carrying contraband," Shuford told the Chronicle. "This report is silent on that issue, but this is data that absolutely must be recorded and analyzed."

Shuford also scoffed at BJS's refusal to qualify its findings as evidence of racial profiling. "The numbers speak for themselves," he said. "Most people would look at these numbers and conclude that racial bias and profiling are alive and well. BJS's contention that they are unable to conclude that this is racial profiling is not particularly compelling," he said.

But BJS statistican Matthew Durose, one of the report's authors, defended the report's lack of hit rate data and limited conclusions. "The study was based on a sample size that is too small to form reliable estimates," he told the Chronicle. "In our sample of 64,000 respondents, 189 were stopped and searched by police, and only 30 cases involved African American drivers stopped and searched. We don't really have the numbers to form reliable estimates," he said.

As for calling it racial profiling, Durose said there was insufficient information. "There are countless circumstances that could explain these searches, and we don't have the officers' reasons for conducting them, so we are not going to say we have proven racial profiling. We don't take that leap. What we have done is to alert the public that this is the survey data."

But the critics were not mollified. "We think that the report demonstrates clear and significant racial disparities in what happens to motorists after they are stopped by law enforcement," said the ACLU's Shuford. "If BJS doesn't have a big enough sample size, they need to get one. This is really critical information, and it is likely it would be consistent with earlier studies, which found that African Americans and Hispanics are no more likely to be carrying contraband than whites."

"BJS released a report that shows that racial profiling exists, and then they deny it," said Flex Your Rights' Morgan. "And then they omit the hit rates. And they released this on a Sunday. The absence of critical data, the decision to go for a Sunday release, the burying of the last report on racial profiling -- all this paints a picture of a Justice Department not any more interested in talking about racial profiling than Congress forces it to be. These reports are congressionally mandated, and I get the sense that we wouldn't have them at all -- even in flawed form -- if Congress didn't make them do it."

BJS says it cannot produce evidence of racial profiling. The critics say it's because it doesn't want to. Meanwhile, another black guy is probably getting pulled over and searched on the New Jersey Turnpike right now.

Futile drug war ignores target: Safety

Atlanta, GA
United States
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative Update April 26, 2007

In this update: 1. IDPI helps attain a sentencing reform victory in Maryland 2. IDPI mobilizes 50 clergy to support a medical marijuana bill in Illinois and generates substantial media coverage 3. Troy Dayton moves on, Tyler Smith is promoted to associate director 4. You can raise $$$ for IDPI while you search the Internet! 5. Stay tuned for a forthcoming action alert about important federal legislation --------------------- IDPI helps attain a sentencing reform victory in Maryland IDPI played a crucial role in the recent passage of HB 992, establishing parole eligibility for second-time non-violent drug offenders serving mandatory minimum sentences in Maryland. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws force judges to hand out harsh sentences for drug offenders, with no option to issue a lesser sentence based on the unique circumstances of the case, such as the defendant's role in the offense, likelihood of committing a future offense, or the role of drug addiction. Offenders sentenced to a mandatory minimum are not eligible for parole. These laws have resulted in large numbers of low-level, non-violent drug offenders clogging up the court and prison systems, racially disproportionate incarceration rates, and no appreciable decline in drug problems. (See for more information.) With nearly 5,000 drug offenders in prison in Maryland, the new law will result in an unanticipated opportunity for early release for some. Working with the Partnership for Treatment Not Incarceration, an alliance of organizations concerned with criminal justice reform in Maryland, IDPI Associate Director Tyler Smith recruited and prepared the pastor of Ebenezer A.M.E. church of Fort Washington (with 15,000 members), the Rev. Dr. Grainger Browning, to testify before both the Legislative Black Caucus and the judiciary committee of the House of Delegates. IDPI also reached out to dozens of clergy and hundreds of our members in Maryland to persuade them to contact key legislators. We even got the priest of a Catholic church that the House Judiciary Committee chair sometimes attends to urge support of the bill! In the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, former prosecutor Reverend Jonathan Newton, also of Ebenezer A.M.E., testified in favor of the bill on behalf of Rev. Dr. Browning and IDPI. Under the old state law, people convicted of a second offense of selling drugs faced a mandatory minimum 10 years in prison. The new law, expected to be signed by the governor in May, will allow all but those also convicted of violent crimes to seek parole. The coalition has been working for a few years to repeal mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws in Maryland. While the new law still doesn't go far enough, it is a compromise that will help many drug offenders. We are delighted to have played an important role in getting this bill passed. Click here to see the testimony delivered to the House of Delegates. -------------------------- 2. IDPI mobilizes 50 clergy to support a medical marijuana bill in Illinois and generates substantial media coverage IDPI did an outreach mailing to clergy in Illinois, signed by Presbyterian minister Bob Hillenbrand, asking them to sign the resolution: "Licensed medical practitioners should not be punished for recommending the medical use of marijuana to seriously ill patients, and seriously ill patients should not be subject to criminal sanctions for using marijuana if the patients' medical practitioners have told them that such use is likely to be beneficial." IDPI activist and Illinois resident Allen Penticoff was instrumental in recruiting Pastor Hillenbrand to this effort. He showed tremendous resourcefulness and initiative responding to our call for help finding a member of the clergy willing to be the original signer of our letter. Fifty religious leaders from eleven denominations responded to the mailing, urging the Illinois senate to pass SB 650 to allow seriously ill patients to use medical marijuana. We subsequently sent a letter featuring the statement signed by fifty Illinois religious leaders to all members of the state senate. Many of the clergypersons followed up by making phone calls to their senators. Then we distributed a news release and called dozens of reporters. This coalition of clergy urging compassion for medical marijuana patients has made big news in Illinois and even resulted in an article in the Los Angeles Times! Click on the link below to see the stories on our website (and the list of clergy). So far, five newspaper articles have been published and one radio segment aired (on Chicago NPR) that feature or mentioned religious support for medical marijuana. The senate is expected to vote on the bill within the next few weeks. -------------------------- 3. Troy Dayton moves on to other work, Tyler Smith is promoted to associate director Troy Dayton, IDPI's associate director since November of 2003, has moved on to work as senior development officer for two allied drug policy reform groups. Troy did a magnificent job at IDPI mobilizing faith leaders to support drug policy reform and raising money for our efforts. In fact, he did such a good job at the latter that the other two organizations made him offers he couldn't refuse. We will miss Troy's presence, but we're delighted for our allies that now employ Troy. Tyler was hired as IDPI's field director in July of 2006, and now he’s the new associate director. He looks forward to strengthening and expanding IDPI's work in the religious community. --------------------------- 4. You can raise $$$ for IDPI while you search the Internet! We depend on and appreciate the financial support that you give us. Here's a way to contribute to our work that won't cost you anything! GoodSearch is a search engine which donates 50-percent of its revenue to the charities and schools designated by its users. It's a simple and compelling concept. You use GoodSearch exactly as you would any other search engine. Because it's powered by Yahoo!, you get proven search results. The money GoodSearch donates to your cause comes from its advertisers -- the users and the organizations do not spend a dime! The Goodsearch website has two bars on it, the top one is your search bar, the bottom one is where you just type in "IDPI" which tells Goodsearch which charity gets the donation. Every time you do, we get a few pennies. With thousands of our supporters and friends participating, this will add up! We urge all of our supporters to use Goodsearch as their primary web-searching site. And, of course, please remember that we need regular donations, too! Please visit and click on the "donate" button to make a contribution. --------------------------- 5. We know that you're busy and probably don't have time to read all of our messages, but if you happen to be reading this one, we urge you to be sure to read the action alert that we'll be sending in a few days. We've been calling on state and local supporters and friends in recent months to help on important projects, but now there are a couple of federal developments on which we need everyone's help. Stay tuned! All the best, Charles Thomas, executive director Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative P.O. Box 6299 Washington, DC 20015 301-270-4473 [email protected]
United States

Open Letter: You Screwed Up the "Snitch" Story, Anderson Cooper

Dear Mr. Cooper:
David Borden
As a CNN viewer who generally appreciates your work, I was stunned by how badly your report on the "Stop Snitching" movement missed the mark. It's easy to find someone willing to make an extreme statement, as hip-hop artist Cameron Giles did when he said he wouldn't report a serial murderer. But do you really think the most extreme voice on the airwaves is the one that merits such a large portion of the face time in your report?

My issue is not with the criticisms leveled at people like Giles or the Stop Snitching movement. My concern is over that which was not said. For example, the most interesting moment in the piece was David Kennedy's comment about police tactics in the war on drugs. However, you did not offer even a second sentence about that on the screen (at least in the CNN version) for Prof. Kennedy to elaborate on what those tactics might be or why they might have such an effect. Do you really consider those three seconds to constitute an adequate fulfillment of your professional responsibility to provide balanced and informative reporting?

A real examination of the "snitching" issue was provided in Ofra Bikel's 1999 documentary for Frontline, "Snitch." One of the prisoners Bikel interviewed, Clarence Aaron, received three life sentences while in college at age 23 because of a minor role in a drug transaction -- "conspiracy," as the government calls it. All the other participants got less time, even though their responsibility level in the deal had been greater. Aaron's cousin James, in fact, was sentenced to mere probation -- in exchange for testifying against Aaron -- and walked out of the courtroom a free man.

According to Aaron, his cousin told him that he "had to do what [he] had to do" and that that included lying to the jury. One of the objectives of prosecutor Deborah Griffin, apparently, was to cause a mistrial and force Aaron to switch to a less skilled attorney than the one he had, and she was able to use James to manipulate the situation to bring that about. If James didn't cooperate, he told Aaron, she threatened to "put [him] in prison for the rest of [his] life."

Of course, Aaron is still in prison today. You can read a little more about him in a column by the San Francisco Chronicle's Debra Saunders here. She writes about him every year, at Christmas pardon time, so far to no avail.

Unfortunately, Aaron's case is unusual mainly for how much attention it's gotten. The exchange of leniency -- or even money -- for testimony that will help the prosecution is an absolutely routine tactic in the drug war. The DEA, in fact, continued to use a "super-snitch" named Andrew Chambers for numerous prosecutions after a court had determined him to be a repeat perjurer. Common sense tells us that testimony acquired in this way is not always reliable. It is a disgusting commentary on the state of our justice system that prosecutors would use a tactic like that so often. The fact that the mandatory minimum laws that garnered Aaron his life sentences were passed by Congress with neither hearings nor expert advice in other forms (according to my colleague Eric Sterling who appeared in Bikel's report), is equally troubling. The use of these laws to imprison minor offenders for long periods of time is also very common, but the term "mandatory minimum" did not appear in your report even once. Nor did you mention it was an anonymous informant's incorrect tip that led to the killing of 92-year old Kathryn Johnston by police officers in a no-knock raid in CNN's own hometown of Atlanta last year.

Research by the Sentencing Project has found that literally one in three young black men between the ages of 20 and 29 are under the supervision of the criminal justice system -- prison, jail, probation or parole -- on any given day. Here in Washington the numbers are even higher. How difficult must it be for all of these people with convictions on their records to go on to find legitimate jobs? What kind of impact does such a massive and ongoing operation have on the bonds of family, friendship, or community? How many of these people go to jail or prison, what kinds of things do they learn there, how many of them catch serious diseases there and bring them back out? How often do they receive harsh mandatory minimum sentences like Clarence Aaron? At a conference I attended recently, a professor from Morehouse College, lamenting the situation, delivered a talk entitled "Where are the Men?" What should we be doing differently, or for that matter what should we stop doing, in order to address this? What does all of this do to change people, mostly in ways that we don't want, to cause more crime? I simply do not believe that one in three black men in this age group are criminals in any meaningful sense of the word.

I respectfully suggest it is the overuse and misuse of the criminal justice system -- not the words of some rappers -- that are the primary reasons anti-police sentiment in some of our communities runs so deep. I urge you to do a follow-up report to take a deeper look at these issues. After all, just because Lou Dobbs thinks we can stop drugs at the border doesn't make it so -- and if we could people would just use more of the drugs that can be grown or manufactured here. We therefore need to change the way we deal with drugs in a fundamental sense. Ending the disgraceful practice of purchasing or coercing testimony from "snitches" to send people away for years or decades would be a start.

Don't be a part of the problem, Mr. Cooper, be a part of the solution -- talk about this.


David Borden, Executive Director
Stop the Drug War
Washington, DC

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