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Release: Congress Includes Billions in Stimulus Package for Controversial Grant Program Linked to Civil Rights Abuses

For Immediate Release: February 6, 2009 Contact: Tony Newman at 646-335-5384 or Bill Piper at 202-669-6430 Congress Includes Billions in Stimulus Package for Controversial Byrne Grant Program Linked to Racial Disparities, Police Corruption and Civil Rights Abuses More Byrne Grant Money Means More Arrests and Incarceration for Marijuana and other Low-level Drug offenses Funding of Program without Reform a Slap in the Face to Victims of Tulia and Hearne Scandals Last week the U.S. House approved a stimulus package including $3 billion for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants program, a controversial law enforcement grant program linked to racial disparities, police corruption and civil rights abuses. The Senate is currently considering the package. Critics say increased funding for the Byrne Grant program is going to backfire by increasing costs on one of the least productive sectors of the U.S. economy: the prison industrial complex. "The last thing we need in a stimulus plan is an incentive for more arrests, more jail time and more prisons," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug policy Alliance. "If Congress wants to give away billions to local law enforcement, it needs to make clear that the objective is public safety, not catching more young people for possessing a joint." Law enforcement agencies, especially narcotics taskforces, are often evaluated and funded based on how many people they arrest. Since low-level drug offenders are plentiful and easy to catch, it's easy for police to pad their numbers by arresting them, even as violent criminals roam free. The more nonviolent drug offenders the police arrest, the more federal money they receive. The number of Americans behind bars grows, and taxpayers are left footing the bill. It's no wonder, criminal justice reformers say, that the United States ranks first in the world in per capita incarceration rates, with 5% of the world's population but 25% of the world's prisoners. The U.S. locks up more of its citizens on a per capita basis than China, Cuba, Mexico, Russia or any other country in the world. Police made more than 1.8 million drug arrests in 2007 (the latest year data is available), about 775,000 were for nothing more than simple possession of marijuana for personal use. The Byrne Grant program is also at the center of some our country's most shocking civil rights abuses. The most notorious Bryne-funded scandal occurred in 1999 in Tulia, Texas where dozens of African-American residents (representing nearly half of the town's black population) were arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to decades in prison, even though the only evidence against them was the uncorroborated testimony of one white undercover officer with a history of lying and racism. The undercover officer worked alone, and had no audiotapes, video surveillance, or eyewitnesses to corroborate his allegations. Suspicions arose after two of the defendants accused were able to produce firm evidence showing they were out of state or at work at the time of the alleged drug buys. Texas Governor Rick Perry eventually pardoned the Tulia defendants (after four years of imprisonment), but these kinds of scandals continue to plague the Byrne grant program. In another Byrne-related scandal, a magistrate judge found that a regional narcotics task force in Hearne, Texas routinely targeted African Americans as part of an effort to drive blacks out of the majority white town. For the past 15 years, the Byrne-funded task force annually raided the homes of African Americans and arrested and prosecuted innocent citizens. The county governments involved in the Hearne task force scandal eventually settled a civil suit, agreeing to pay financial damages to some of the victims of discrimination. In a recent letter to House and Senate leaders, fifteen national civil rights and criminal justice organizations urged members of Congress to shift the Byrne Grant money in the stimulus bill to treatment, rehabilitation and other effective programs instead. The groups include included the ACLU, the National African-American Drug Policy Coalition, the National Black Police Association, National Council on Crime and Delinquency, Justice Policy Institute, and the United Methodist Church. "The war on drugs is a new form of Jim Crow, systematically targeting communities of color and filling our prisons with nonviolent offenders at great taxpayer expense," Nadelmann said. "It is doubtful states could afford their punitive criminal justice polices without federal subsidies. Members of Congress who support the Byrne Grant program are perpetuating injustice and burdening taxpayers" ###

The White House: Obama on Drug Policy

The incoming Obama administration has posted its agenda online at the White House web site While neither drug policy nor criminal justice merited its own category in the Obama agenda, several of the broad categories listed do contain references to drug and crime policy and provide a strong indication of the administration's proclivities.
But before getting into what the agenda mentions, it's worth noting what the agenda does not mention: marijuana. There is not a word about the nation's most widely used illicit drug or the nearly 900,000 arrests a year generated by marijuana prohibition. Nor, despite Obama campaign pledges, is there a word about medical marijuana or ending the DEA raids on providers in California -- which doesn't necessarily mean he will go back on his word. It could well be that the issue is seen as too marginal to be included in the broad agenda for national change. With the first raid on a medical marijuana clinic during the Obama administration hitting this very week, reformers are anxiously hoping it is only the work of Bush holdovers and not a signal about the future.

Reformers may find themselves pleased with some Obama positions, but they will be less happy with others. The Obama administration wants to reduce inequities in the criminal justice system, but it also taking thoroughly conventional positions on other drug policy issues.

But let's let them speak for themselves. Here are the relevant sections of the Obama agenda:

Under Civil Rights:

  • End Racial Profiling: President Obama and Vice President Biden will ban racial profiling by federal law enforcement agencies and provide federal incentives to state and local police departments to prohibit the practice.
  • Reduce Crime Recidivism by Providing Ex-Offender Support: President Obama and Vice President Biden will provide job training, substance abuse and mental health counseling to ex-offenders, so that they are successfully re-integrated into society. Obama and Biden will also create a prison-to-work incentive program to improve ex-offender employment and job retention rates.
  • Eliminate Sentencing Disparities: President Obama and Vice President Biden believe the disparity between sentencing crack and powder-based cocaine is wrong and should be completely eliminated.
  • Expand Use of Drug Courts: President Obama and Vice President Biden will give first-time, non-violent offenders a chance to serve their sentence, where appropriate, in the type of drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than a prison term in changing bad behavior.
  • Promote AIDS Prevention: In the first year of his presidency, President Obama will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies. The strategy will be designed to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care and reduce HIV-related health disparities. The President will support common sense approaches including age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, combating infection within our prison population through education and contraception, and distributing contraceptives through our public health system. The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. President Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma -- too often tied to homophobia -- that continues to surround HIV/AIDS.

Under Foreign Policy:

  • Afghanistan: Obama and Biden will refocus American resources on the greatest threat to our security -- the resurgence of al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They will increase our troop levels in Afghanistan, press our allies in NATO to do the same, and dedicate more resources to revitalize Afghanistan's economic development. Obama and Biden will demand the Afghan government do more, including cracking down on corruption and the illicit opium trade.

Under Rural Issues:

  • Combat Methamphetamine: Continue the fight to rid our communities of meth and offer support to help addicts heal.

Under Urban Issues:

  • Support Local Law Enforcement: President Obama and Vice President Biden are committed to fully funding the COPS program to put 50,000 police officers on the street and help address police brutality and accountability issues in local communities. Obama and Biden also support efforts to encourage young people to enter the law enforcement profession, so that our local police departments are not understaffed because of a dearth of qualified applicants.
  • Reduce Crime Recidivism by Providing Ex-Offender Supports: America is facing an incarceration and post-incarceration crisis in urban communities. Obama and Biden will create a prison-to-work incentive program, modeled on the successful Welfare-to-Work Partnership, and work to reform correctional systems to break down barriers for ex-offenders to find employment.

Feature: Narcs Cheer -- House Economic Stimulus Bill Would Give Byrne Grant Program $3 Billion Over Three Years

As part of the $825 billion economic stimulus bill passed by the House last week, the Democratic Party leadership and the Obama administration included $3 billion for the controversial Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, which funds multi-agency drug task forces across the country, and $1 billion for the Community Oriented Policing (COPS) program, which will pay for thousands of additional police officers to hit the streets. Drug enforcement lobby groups are pleased, particularly about the Byrne funding, but others predict that any "stimulus" more Byrne grants might provide will be followed long-term drag on state budgets in ways going beyond the federal dollars.
Sen. Harkin and Iowa law enforcement officials at 2004 press conference
In one of the few drug policy-related decisions made by the Bush administration that reformers could cheer, the Bush administration tried throughout its second term to reduce or eliminate funding for the Byrne grants. In so doing, it was heeding the concerns of conservative and taxpayer groups, who called the program "an ineffective and inefficient use of resources." But while the Bush administration tried to gut the program, Congress, still tied to the "tough on drugs" mentality, kept trying to restore funding, albeit at reduced levels.

The Byrne grant program, and especially its funding of the scandal-ridden multi-jurisdictional anti-drug task forces, also came in for harsh criticism from drug reform, civil rights and criminal justice groups. For these critics, the program was in dire need of reform because of incidents like the Tulia, Texas, scandal, where a Byrne-funded task force police officer managed to get 10% of the black population of the town locked up on bogus cocaine distribution charges. Scandals like Tulia showed the Byrne grant program "did more harm than good," the critics wrote in a 2006 letter demanding reform.

Of course, Tulia wasn't the only Byrne-related scandal. A 2002 report from the ACLU of Texas found 16 more scandals involving Byrne grant-funded task forces in Texas, including cases of witness tampering, falsifying of government records, fabricating evidence, false imprisonment, racial profiling, and sexual harassment. Byrne-related scandals have also occurred in other states, including the misuse of millions of dollars of grant money in Kentucky and Massachusetts, false convictions because of police perjury in Missouri, and making deals with drug offenders to drop or lower charges in exchange for cash or vehicles in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

In accord with its own budget-cutting imperatives, and in response to critics on the right and left, the Bush administration again tried to zero out the Byrne grant program in FY 2008. While the program was indeed cut from $520 million in 2007, Congress still funded it at $170 million for 2008. Now, it has folded the Byrne program and the Clinton-era COPS program into the emergency economic stimulus bill, leading to loud cheers from the law enforcement community.

"Safe communities are the foundation of a growing economy, and increased Byrne JAG funding will help state and local governments hire officers, add prosecutors and fund critical treatment and crime prevention programs," said National Criminal Justice Association President David Steingraber, executive director of the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance. "I applaud the stimulus bill proposed by the House Democrats and press Congress for its quick approval."

"This is very encouraging," said Bob Bushman, vice-president of the National Narcotics Officers Associations Coalition and a 35-year veteran of drug law enforcement in Minnesota. "We think it's a very good sign that this was included in the House bill. The House side was where we struggled in past years. Maybe now the House has listened to us and is taking our concerns more seriously," he said. "We built a broad coalition of law enforcement and drug treatment and prevention people."

Byrne money doesn't just fund the task forces, Bushman pointed out, although he conceded that's where much of the money has gone. "Byrne money goes to all 50 states, and most of them used it for the multi-jurisdictional task forces. Here in Minnesota, we split it between task forces and offender reentry programs and drug courts."

While a answer to just how much Byrne money has gone to the task forces remains buried deep in the bowels of the Justice Department -- part of the problem is that the 50 states are awarded block grants and then decide at the state level how to allocate the funds, and some states are better than others at reporting back to Justice -- observers put a low-ball figure of at least 25% going to fund them, and possibly much higher.

The task forces are needed, said Bowman. "While we are never going to arrest our way out of this, I've seen too much of the damage done by drug abuse, and we need all the help we can get," he said. "Not just for policing, but also for treatment and prevention and drug courts. We need all three pillars, and the Byrne program helps with all three."

If law enforcement was pleased, that wasn't the case with civil rights, taxpayer, and drug reform groups. They said they were disappointed in the restoration of funding under the auspices of the economic stimulus bill, and vowed to continue to try to either cut or reform the program.

"We're working on a letter to Congress about the Byrne grants right now," said Lawanda Johnson, communications director for the Justice Policy Institute, one of the organizations that had signed on to the 2006 DPA letter. "The Byrne grant program is not an effective use of funds for preserving public safety or stimulating the economy. The only way you will get an economic boost from this is if you own stock in Corrections Corporation of America," she laughed, grimly.

"With so many smart people working on the budget and the stimulus package, you would think they would understand that the states are looking to reduce their prison populations and change those policies that have jailed so many people," said Johnson. "To then turn around and have the federal government invest $4 billion in more police and more grants seems paradoxical. It's just going to jack up the spending for states and localities, and they are already struggling."

"We oppose the wasteful economic stimulus bill and we oppose the inclusion of the Byrne grants in it," said Leslie Paige, spokesperson for Citizens Against Government Waste, one of the conservative taxpayer groups that has opposed the grants for the past several years. "If there is going to be government spending, the least you can do is make sure the money is going to have a long term positive impact on the economy."

"This is disappointing, but not surprising," said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "This reverses Bush's cuts in the program and restores funding at even higher levels. At the same time Congress and the Obama administration are expressing great concern about racial disparities and over-incarceration, they keep trying to fund this program, which will only stimulate more arrests of more nonviolent drug offenders," Piper noted.

"The Democrats are framing this as helping in these tough economic times, but the people who will be arrested will end up in state prison, and the states will have to pay for that," Piper pointed out. "The states may well end up paying more in the long run. It's far from clear that this will stimulate the economy, but what is clear is that it will stimulate the breaking up of families and decreasing productivity and tax revenues, especially in communities already devastated by the impact of over-incarceration."

Killing funding outright is unlikely, said Piper. "I don't think there's any way we can stop this from being included because the support for it is strong and bipartisan," he said. "No one wants to go up against the police. Our real hope is that later in the year we can put some restrictions on the program, which is what we've been working on. Instead of trying to cut it, we can try to use it to encourage state and local law enforcement to change how they operate. They're so addicted to federal funding that they may do just about anything, such as documenting arrests or having performance measures."

Bushman and the rest of law enforcement aren't resting easy just yet. "The funding has to survive hearings and make it into the final appropriation," he noted. "This is not a done deal yet."

But it looks like Congress is well on the way to funding three more years of Byrne grants at $1 billion a year, the highest level of funding in years. And don't forget the 13,000 new police officers to be funded for the next three years by the COPS program. If Congress and the cops have their way, we can look forward to more drug busts, more prosecutions, more people sentenced to prison, and a greater burden on already deficit-ridden state budgets.

Feature: Drug Policy and the Reform Vote in the Presidential Race

With the presidential election now less than a month away, Democratic candidate Barack Obama appears poised for victory, according to the most recent polls, though the race is far from over. From the beginning of the campaign, drug reform and drug policy have barely registered in the discourse, a state of affairs that has grown even more pronounced as the country slips into economic crisis and the news media focuses obsessively on the two major party candidates, their campaigns, and their responses to the crisis.
The White House
Despite the silence at the presidential level, there is an emerging consensus in the country that the war on drugs is a failure -- 76% of respondents in a Zogby poll last week said so -- and there are several presidential candidates whose drug policy platforms actually appeal to drug reformers. With one major party candidate or another establishing clear leads in most states, the presidential election will be decided in a handful of battleground states, and that means drug reformers in the remaining states have the option of voting for candidates whose views resemble their own without jeopardizing the chances of their favored major party candidate.

When it comes to the basic underpinnings of US drug policy, Sens. McCain and Obama are similar, and non-reformist. When it comes to some important details, however, differences do appear. The similarities are well demonstrated by the candidates' responses to a questionnaire from the International Association of Police Chiefs about their views on drug policy, among other issues. The question and their responses are worth reading in their entirety:

"Narcotics abuse and trafficking continues to be a problem that state, local, and tribal law enforcement officers face every day. How would you ensure that enforcement, prevention, and treatment programs receive equal resources and assistance to combat this growing problem?" asked the police chiefs.

Here is McCain's response:

"Illegal narcotics are a scourge that I have fought against for my entire legislative career, and I believe this fight must begin with prevention and enforcement. That is why I introduced the Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1988 during my first term in the Senate and supported the Drug Free Borders Act of 1999, which authorized over $1 billion in funds to bolster our ability to prevent drugs from flowing through our borders and ports by improving technology and expanding our interdiction forces. As president, I would continue these efforts to ensure that our nation's children are protected from the influence of illegal drugs and that the drug peddlers are brought to justice for their crimes.

We must also realize that treatment is an important element of the mission to eradicate drug abuse. I supported the Second Chance Act, which authorized up to $360 million for violator reentry programs in 2009 and 2010. Last year, approximately 750,000 inmates were released from custody and returned to our communities, and typically one half will return to incarceration. The Second Chance Act funds programs that prepare prisoners for the transition from prison to society by providing job training, mentors, counseling, and more. Some programs report reducing recidivism rates by 50 percent. These programs could save American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. On average, the annual cost of incarcerating a prisoner exceeds $20,000 -- a number that increased sixfold between 1982 and 2002. As president, I believe we should support having parents with children in the home rather than in prison, former prisoners working and paying taxes, and citizens contributing to rather than taking from the community."

Here is Obama's response:

"Drug trafficking has long been a scourge on our society, and we need a national drug policy that focuses on tackling new threats with tough enforcement measures while also providing for robust prevention and treatment programs. All three of these components -- enforcement, prevention, and treatment -- are critical to a complete national drug control strategy, and each will be a key part of my agenda in an Obama-Biden administration. Funding the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne-JAG) Program is essential to avoid law enforcement layoffs and cuts to hundreds of antidrug and antigang efforts across the country. The administration has consistently proposed to cut or eliminate funding for the Byrne-JAG Program, which funds antidrug and antigang task forces across the country. Byrne-JAG also funds prevention and drug treatment programs that are critical to reducing US demand for drugs. Since 2000, this program has been cut more than 83 percent. These cuts threaten hundreds of multijurisdictional drug and gang task forces -- many that took years to create and develop. In my home state of Illinois, the Byrne grants have been used effectively to fund anti-meth task forces, and I have consistently fought for increased funding for this program. As president, I will restore funding to this critical program.

Finally, it's important that we address the crime and security problems in Latin America that have clear spillover effects in the United States in terms of gang activity and drug trafficking, which is why I introduced a comprehensive plan to promote regional security in the Americas in June. I will direct my attorney general and homeland security secretary to meet with their Latin American and Caribbean counterparts in the first year of my presidency to produce a regional strategy to combat drug trafficking, domestic and transnational gang activity, and organized crime. A hemispheric pact on security, crime, and drugs will permit the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean to advance serious and measurable drug demand reduction goals, while fostering cooperation on intelligence and investigating criminal activity. The United States will also work to strengthen civilian law enforcement and judicial institutions in the region by promoting anticorruption safeguards and police reform.

I will also support the efforts of our border states to foster cooperation and constructive engagement with the region. Arizona, for instance, has entered into agreements with its neighboring Mexican state, Sonora, to cooperate on fighting border violence and drug trafficking. These agreements have led to the training of Sonora detectives to investigate wire transfers used to pay smugglers in their state; improved radio communication; and better tracking of fugitive and stolen vehicles. The Arizona-Sonora partnership -- based on information sharing, technical assistance, and training -- provides an excellent model for regional cooperation on security issues. An Obama-Biden administration will support these initiatives and will work to integrate these efforts into the region's coordinated security pact."

While the Obama and McCain campaigns differ slightly in their emphases on different drug policy-related issues, there is more similarity than difference between them. Both refer to drugs as a "scourge," both brag about their anti-drug achievements, both support US drug war objectives across the border and overseas.

But even though there is much to unite Obama and McCain on overall agreement with drug prohibition, there are differences, too, some of them significant. While neither Obama nor McCain support marijuana decriminalization, Obama once did, until he reversed position during this year's election campaign. Whether Obama's flip-flop on decrim says more about his good initial instincts or his political opportunism is open to interpretation.

Similarly, as the Sentencing Project showed in a March report on the candidates' positions on drug and criminal justice policy, while McCain has supported mandatory minimum sentences for "drug dealers," Obama in 2003 told an NAACP debate he would "vote to abolish" mandatory minimums. By this year, Obama had slightly softened his stand on mandatory minimums, saying on his web site, "I will immediately review these sentences to see where we can be smarter on crime and reduce the ineffective warehousing of nonviolent drug offenders."

Although Obama has tacked to the center (read: right) during the campaign season, other of his drug policy positions remain superior to McCain's. Obama supported lifting the ban on federal funding of needle exchanges; McCain did not address it. Obama explicitly supports drug courts; McCain does not, although he has stated he thinks too many drug users -- not drug dealers -- are in prison. Obama supported reducing the disparity between powder and crack cocaine offenders, even sponsoring a bill that would equalize sentences; McCain has not addressed the subject. Obama has said he would stop the raids on medical marijuana patients in California; McCain would not. Obama sees drug policy in the broader context of social justice; McCain has not opined on that idea.

Still, contrast Obama and McCain's drug policy positions with those of the Greens, the Libertarians, and the Ralph Nader campaign, and real differences emerge -- mainly between the bipartisan drug policy consensus and the three alternative campaigns.

For former US Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), now running as the Green Party presidential candidate, the Green Party platform lays out a clear drug reform agenda:

Law enforcement is placing too much emphasis on drug-related and petty street crimes, and not enough on prosecution of corporate, white collar, and environmental crimes. Defrauding someone of their life savings is the same as robbery.

Any attempt to combat crime must begin with restoration of community. We encourage positive approaches that build hope, responsibility and a sense of belonging. Prisons should be the sentence of last resort, reserved for violent criminals. Those convicted of nonviolent offenses should be handled by other programs including halfway houses, electronic monitoring, work-furlough, community service and restitution programs. Substance abuse should be addressed as a medical problem requiring treatment, not imprisonment, and a failed drug test should not result in revocation of parole. Incarcerated prisoners of the drug war should be released to the above programs.

Repeal state "Three Strikes" laws. Restore judicial discretion in sentencing, as opposed to mandatory sentencing. Stop forfeiture of the property of unconvicted suspects. It is state piracy and denial of due process.

Implement a moratorium on prison construction. The funds saved should be used for alternatives to incarceration.

We call for decriminalization of victimless crimes. For example, the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

We call for legalization of industrial hemp and all its many uses.

We call for an end to the "war on drugs." We support expanded drug counseling and treatment.

Likewise, former US Rep. Bob Barr (R-GA), running as the Libertarian Party candidate, also has a strong drug reform platform:

Individuals should be free to make choices for themselves and to accept responsibility for the consequences of the choices they make. No individual, group, or government may initiate force against any other individual, group, or government. Our support of an individual's right to make choices in life does not mean that we necessarily approve or disapprove of those choices.

We support the protections provided by the Fourth Amendment to be secure in our persons, homes, and property. Only actions that infringe on the rights of others can properly be termed crimes. We favor the repeal of all laws creating "crimes" without victims, such as the use of drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes.

Government exists to protect the rights of every individual including life, liberty and property. Criminal laws should be limited to violation of the rights of others through force or fraud, or deliberate actions that place others involuntarily at significant risk of harm. Individuals retain the right to voluntarily assume risk of harm to themselves.... We oppose reduction of constitutional safeguards of the rights of the criminally accused.

American foreign policy should seek an America at peace with the world and its defense against attack from abroad. We would end the current US government policy of foreign intervention, including military and economic aid. We recognize the right of all people to resist tyranny and defend themselves and their rights. We condemn the use of force, and especially the use of terrorism, against the innocent, regardless of whether such acts are committed by governments or by political or revolutionary groups. [Ed: Presumably portions of this plank can be taken to have bearing on the US-imposed international drug war.]

Like the Greens and the Libertarians, the Ralph Nader campaign has a solid drug reform platform, as suggested by its title, "The Failed War on Drugs:"

The Nader campaign supports ending the war on drugs and replacing it with a health-based treatment and prevention-focused approach. Enforcement of drug laws is racially unfair, and dissolution of the drug war would begin to make the types of changes needed in our criminal justice system.

According to the federal Household Survey of drug use, "most current illicit drug users are white. There were an estimated 9.9 million whites (72 percent of all users), 2.0 million blacks (15 percent), and 1.4 million Hispanics (10 percent) who were current illicit drug users in 1998." And yet, blacks constitute 36.8% of those arrested for drug violations, over 42% of those in federal prisons for drug violations. African-Americans comprise almost 58% of those in state prisons for drug felonies; Hispanics account for 20.7%.

The drug war has failed -- we spend nearly $50 billion annually on the drug war and yet problems related to drug abuse continue to worsen. We need to acknowledge that drug abuse is a health problem with social and economic consequences. Therefore, the solutions are -- public health, social services, economic development and tender supportive time with addicts in our depersonalized society. Law enforcement should be at the edges of drug control, not at the center. It is time to bring some currently illegal drugs within the law by regulating, taxing and controlling them. Ending the drug war will dramatically reduce street crime, violence and homicides related to underground drug dealing.

But also like the Greens and the Libertarians, Nader has virtually no chance of winning any state. Most recent presidential campaign polls don't even bother to include anyone besides Obama and McCain, and the most recent poll that included the three minor party candidates, late July Angus-Reid poll, found McKinney, Barr, and Nader combined for only 10% of the vote. Nader polled 6%, Barr 3%, and McKinney 1%.

Still, drug reformers must once again face that perennial question: Should I vote for the major party candidate who is less bad on drug policy, or should I vote for a candidate that reflects my views on this issue? Not surprisingly, there is a variety of views.

Veteran drug reformer Kevin Zeese acted as a Nader spokesman during the 2004 campaign and ran for the US Senate in Maryland as the nominee of both the Green and the Libertarian parties. He still believes third party politics is the answer, he told the Chronicle.

"Until reformers have the courage to vote for what we want why will anyone else? Neither duopoly party will end the drug war -- they are not even discussing it," he said. "The better duopolist picked a leading drug war hawk as his vice president. No doubt many will hope that Biden will pull a Nixon goes to China and reverse himself -- but that is really blind hope."

Drug reformers, especially those in non-battleground states, should send the major parties a message, said Zeese. "Voting for Obama is a true wasted vote in a non-battleground state," he said. "We know how the Electoral College will vote in 40 states. If you disagree with Obama or McCain -- why vote for them in those states? It is important for these parties to see that people are not satisfied with them. If you vote for Obama or McCain when you disagree with them then you are sending a signal of agreement. Why should he change? If you vote against them, they know they have to change in order to earn your vote."

Veteran drug reformer Cliff Thornton, who ran for the governorship of Connecticut on a drug reform platform as a Green Party candidate in 2006, agrees with Zeese. "McCain will just be more of the same, and I don't really know what Obama will do," he said. "Let's just note that Joe Biden was one of the architects of mandatory minimums. If Obama wins, I'm afraid we will have to wait for the next election to see any progress. We need to be supporting alternatives, and a vote for a Green is vote for a Green," he said.

But for Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance Network, the lobbying arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, the differences between Obama and McCain on drug policy, while marginal, are significant. "In terms of reducing the harms associated with both drugs and drug prohibition, the difference between Obama and McCain is big," Piper argued. "Obama supports repealing the federal syringe ban, eliminating the crack/powder cocaine sentencing disparity, reforming mandatory minimums, and shifting resources from incarceration to treatment. McCain hasn't said anything major one way or the other about syringe exchange programs or the crack/powder disparity from what I can tell, but has publicly made fun of medical marijuana patients and introduced legislation to essentially ban methadone."

While conceding that it is difficult to predict how either Obama or McCain would govern, Piper argued that an Obama presidency is much more likely to see drug reform. "In terms of seeing a wide range of reforms at the federal level over the next eight years, it seems far more likely to happen under Obama than McCain," he said.

Not likely, retorted Zeese. "Biden will be whispering drug war nonsense in his ears, and his past use of marijuana and cocaine will be reasons that stop him from doing anything sensible," he predicted. "The best we can hope for from Obama is benign neglect. There will be many other domestic and international crises for them to deal with so drug policy will not be high on their agenda -- that is good news -- because Biden is the source of most of what is wrong with modern drug policy. Hopefully, he is kept busy doing something else."

And, said Piper, Obama is not talking about ending drug prohibition, dismantling the prison-industrial complex, and putting violent drug trafficking organizations out of business. "Only Barr, Nader, and McKinney are talking about major reform. They're speaking for the 76% of Americans who say the war on drugs has failed. But they've been excluded from the debates and are largely being ignored by the media. I know a lot of drug policy reformers who are voting for one of them. I know a lot, probably more, who are voting for Obama, and some who are voting for McCain."

Who drug reformers should vote for remains a tricky, personal question, said Piper. "There are a lot of variables to consider, including weighing the possibility of important, short-term incremental gains against the need for long-term systematic change; pondering the question of whether or not change on the margin facilitates or obstructs major change; deciding if the drug war should be the only issue you vote on or just one of many; thinking about the political and cultural changes that have to occur to bring down prohibition and how this election fits into that; considering what state you live in; and wrestling with your conscience," he said, ticking off the issues confronting drug reform voters. "I don't think there is one right answer."

(This article was published by's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

Law Enforcement: Killer Cop Walks in Ohio SWAT Raid Shooting, Relatives File Wrongful Death Suit

An all-white jury found Lima, Ohio, Police Sgt. Joe Chavalia not guilty on all counts in the January shooting death of 27-year-old Tarika Wilson during a January SWAT team raid on the home of a low-level crack cocaine dealer who was her live-in boyfriend. Wilson was shot and killed as she cowered at the door of a second-floor bedroom holding her infant child, Sincere Wilson, in her arms. The child was also hit; he had a finger amputated because of his wounds.
animated GIF appearing on Lima SWAT team's web site, taken down shortly after Wilson killing
In the midst of community outrage over the killing of Wilson, whose five other children were in the bedroom behind her, Sgt. Chavalia was indicted in her death -- but only on misdemeanor charges. He faced a maximum of eight months in prison if found guilty in her killing.

During his testimony at the trial, Sergeant Chavalia said that he believed his life was in danger when he entered the home and saw a "shadowy figure" down the hallway at the same time that he heard gunshots. He then opened fire, killing Wilson. Testimony at the trial determined that the gunshots Chavalia heard were in fact fired by two other SWAT team members, who were killing a pair of pit bulls on the ground floor.

"There was absolutely, positively no doubt in my mind right then and there that whatever this was is shooting and they're trying to kill me," he told the jury.

Chavalia's attorney, Bill Kluge, waged an aggressive case, even stooping to blaming the victim for getting herself killed. Wilson had chosen to live with a drug dealer, he said, and she had failed to identify herself to the yelling intruders who broke down her door.

"Why would she put those children in that position? I don't know the answer to that," Kluge said. "Love is a strange thing."

After hearing 3 1/2 days of testimony in the case, the jury deliberated for three hours before clearing Chavalia.

"We're supposed to take this with a smile? We're supposed to believe in justice?" asked an incredulous Ivory Austin II, Wilson's half-brother, in remarks reported by the Toledo Blade.

"We've got to do better. We've given people the license to kill," Jason Upthegrove, president of the Lima chapter of the NAACP, said afterward.

The Rev. Arnold Manley, pastor of Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church, told the Blade he came to the trial to see justice prevail but that did not happen. "As a pastor, I'm hurt deeply that we can walk away from this and say justice has been done," he said. "How do I go out to tell the people on the streets, 'Let the law prevail'? How do I say that? White man justice. Black man grief."

Darla Kaye Jennings, grandmother of Sincere Wilson responded to Lima's "white man justice" by filing a federal civil rights lawsuit against Chavalia and the city of Lima the day after the verdict was announced. The lawsuit asks for compensation for Sincere's injuries as well as an end to "police abuse by requiring that high risk search warrant executions be limited to situations where they are truly needed and where the least amount of force necessary to the situation is employed."

According to the lawsuit, the shooting that led to Wilson's death and her son's injuries was "excessive, unreasonable, and completely unnecessary." The lawsuit further said that Sergeant Chavalia acted "negligently" when he used deadly force.

Another killer cop has walked. But perhaps the city of Lima will learn a hard lesson when it is forced to pay for its misdeeds.

Racial Profiling: Latest Illinois Report Prompts Civil Rights Groups to Call for End to Consent Searches

The Illinois Department of Transportation earlier this month issued its annual report on race and traffic stops. The results showed that police were much more likely to ask minority drivers to consent to searches without probable cause, but that they were much less likely to actually find drugs, guns, or other contraband in consent searches directed at minority drivers.
car search
The results are consistent with the first three years of results under the state's traffic stop racial profiling monitoring program. That program went into effect in 2004 after the state legislature passed legislation authored by then state Sen. Barack Obama (D) enacting it.

The results prompted a coalition of civil rights groups to last week call on Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) to end the practice of consent searches. In a letter to Blagojevich, the ACLU of Illinois, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, the Rainbow/Push Coalition and several other civil rights groups called consent searches an "invidious device" that results in "condition of inequality imposed on minority citizens on our roadways."

The groups specifically asked Blagojevich to end consent searches by the Illinois State Patrol, which had even worse results than law enforcement at large. According to the statewide data, police agencies searched blacks three times more often and Hispanics more than twice as often as whites. But police discovered illicit goods roughly twice as often when whites agreed to searches. State troopers similarly singled out minority drivers, but their "hit rate" for discovering contraband during consent searches was even more racially skewed. Troopers were twice as likely to discover contraband in consent searches of whites than blacks, and eight times more often than in vehicles driven by Hispanics.

"Now we have the proof in the pudding and that is that not only are these searches occurring with greater frequency among minority drivers, but that they are occurring with dramatically less effectiveness," Harvey Grossman, legal director for the ACLU of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune.

"Officers are more trusting of whites than they are of blacks, and they are particularly suspicious of Hispanics," Grossman said of state police. "It's clear from the data that officers require less certainty when they ask Latinos to be searched than they do whites, there are more stringent standards for whites."

The Tribune also reported that Blagojevich, who has been critical of racial profiling in the past, issued a statement saying he opposed "any unjustified differential treatment of any group," but did not address the request to stop the searches. "I look forward to working with the coalition to further our shared goals," Blagojevich said.

Law Enforcement: Missouri Residents Sue Over Fake DEA Agent Busts

Seventeen residents of Gerald, Missouri, located in Franklin County, have filed federal lawsuits alleging that their arrests on drug charges were illegal because a fake DEA agent helped make them, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Sunday. The lawsuits, filed last week, came in the wake of a man now accused of duping Gerald officials into believing he was a bona fide federal agent on loan from the DEA.

Authorities admitted last week that the fake DEA agent, William Jakob, of Washington, Missouri, conducted drug raids and made arrests without legal authority. The police chief and two officers involved have already been fired. Jakob has yet to be charged with any crime.

The plaintiffs in the civil rights lawsuits allege that Jakob and Gerald police officers burst into their homes in April and May, pointed guns at their heads, damaged property, took money, and made arrests. The suits name city officials, police, and Jakob as defendants and say police should have verified Jakob's identity.

One suit filed by 11 people seeks $11 million for each plaintiff. Another suit filed by six people did not specify damages sought.

Feature: Global Marijuana Day Demonstrations Meet Repression in Handful of Cities

Saturday was the first Saturday in May, which for more than 30 years has been marked by marches and demonstrations in support of marijuana legalization. Known alternately as the Million Marijuana March, International Marijuana Day, or the Global Marijuana March, this year's commemoration saw marches or protests in more than 200 cities across the globe.
Mexico City
Most went over without problems or controversy, whether large or small, Some 10,000 people marched and toked in Toronto without significant problems, and thousands more celebrated in Mexico City's Alameda Central. In New York City, hundreds of people braved soggy weather in the annual march. Even smaller protests, like those in Rapid City, South Dakota, and Raleigh, North Carolina, came off without a hitch.

But in a relative handful of locations, local authorities responded with repression against the exercise of free speech on marijuana law reform. In Brazil, marches in a number of cities were blocked by court orders; in Belgium, police arrested activists on questionable grounds; in Russia, authorities quashed demonstrations; and in Australia, heavy-handed law enforcement led to numerous arrests and the closing of landmark venues at Nimbin, but failed to dampen spirits.

Here are some reports from the Global Marijuana March trouble spots:

Brazil: According to reports compiled by translator and São Paulo resident Martín Arangurí, judges in nine Brazilian cities -- São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Brasília, Belo Horizonte, Cuiabá, Curitiba, João Pessoa, and Fortaleza -- blocked planned marches as "apology" for the crime of drug use. In four other Brazilian cities -- Vitória, Porto Alegre, Florianópolis, and Recife -- marches went on as planned.

The Brazilian judges fell in line behind the arguments of officials like São Paulo prosecutor Marcelo Luiz Barone, who told CBN Radio, "If I encourage someone to use drugs, I am practicing a behavior as criminal as drug trafficking."

Similarly, the Rio de Janeiro attorney general's office argued that "the situation offered as a pacific political demonstration camouflages an action for the diffusion of drug use, which is a crime".

Brazilian activists didn't take the bans lying down. In São Paulo, under strong police presence, nearly 200 people gathered to protest the judicial gag on freedom of speech. They were told not to walk, otherwise they would be arrested. "What can't happen is a walk, if they stay put, there's no problem", said Major Wanderley Rodrigues of the São Paulo Military Police in in comments reported by the newspaper Folha de São Paulo on Sunday. That is exactly what people did: a "parada", which in Portuguese means a parade, but also "stopped." In all, authorities arrested 20 people across the country.
ENCOD's Joep Oomen, Antwerp demo
As Brazilian organizers complained, "the drug trade was never really debated by Brazilian society, which is what makes it possible for things to continue to be this way: see the murders committed by the BOPE (Special Police Operations Squad) on Rio's hills." Perhaps now, with the attention focused on the issue by the march bans, that will start to change.

Belgium: Despite Belgian laws allowing citizens to grow a single marijuana plant for personal use, police in Antwerp Saturday arrested four members of Trekt Uw Plant (Grow Your Plant) as they attempted to publicly plant a single marijuana seed each.

According to Trekt Uw Plant member Joep Oomen, a Belgian citizen and coordinator of the European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies (ENCOD), "Four members of Trekt Uw Plant were arrested on the accusation that they planted a cannabis seed. A little later some others were arrested because they were protesting against the initial arrests. Today thankfully, everyone is safe and free. After six hours of detention and interrogation, the marijuana march could continue and was visited by 150 people," Oomen wrote.

"Books, T-shirts and flyers have all been confiscated, as well as 84 cannabis seeds, and four people were found with (each less than the officially tolerated 3 grams) cannabis on them," Oomen continued. "The police action seems to be politically motivated by the lord mayor of Antwerp, Patrick Janssens (also known as El Kapoen), who apparently ordered this directly without consulting the prosecutor nor the public order section of the Antwerp police force, who had initially given us permission to realize the event knowing perfectly well what we were going to do: plant a seed of one cannabis plant for each member of the Trekt Uw Plant association."

Police manhandled the arrestees, and the arrests and mistreatment provoked a reaction from the crowd, Oomen reported. "The march, which was not intended as a blow in, or open air cannabis consumption room [or a smoke-in, as we would call it in the US], became a blow-in after the intervention of the police, as a natural consequence of the fact that people came together on that place and the police fear of for further escalation." (More Antwerp demo pictures can be found online here.)

Russia: Heavy-handed authorities once again quashed Global Marijuana March activities, although not as brutally as they did last year, when several attendees were arrested and beaten by police. According to a report from the Moscow-based Legalize Cannabis League published by the British marijuana news agency Cannazine, activists sought to prevent a replay of last year by announcing there would be no march this year, only a meeting at the "Friendship of Nations" fountain at the All-Russia Exhibition Center.

"As soon as the statement was published we received an aggressive reaction from the Federal Service of Drug Control (Russian DEA analog)," the activists reported. Russian authorities denounced the event as intolerable.

"Legalization of cannabis as a drug is out of the question," said FSDC spokesman Alander Mikhailov in an interview with Russian media. "This theme mustn't be discussed at all. Such actions are the grossest breach of the peace and hooliganism. This is a spring provocation to which the bodies of internal affairs and psychiatrists should react."

Russian police backed up their tough talk with tough action on Saturday, the activists reported: "When we arrived at the 'Friendship of Nations,' we found out that the fountain was blocked by forces of OMON and metal fences. Members of OMON and plain-clothes special police pulled from the crowd everybody who seemed suspicious to them no matter if it was a Rastafarian, a punk, an emo or just a long-haired guy. In a few minutes eight persons were arrested without any reasons. Some of them knew nothing about the action and came to the All-Russia Exhibition Centre just to have fun on the holiday. All the journalists who managed to film the arrests were forced to erase their videos and photos under threat of arrest and/or spoiling their cameras."

A few minutes later, as it became apparent police were about to make more arrests, the author of this report tried to get away: "I was lucky to reach the exit from the All-Russia Exhibition Centre when the heel of a non-uniformed person stopped me. Two seconds of free-fall -- and I was lying on the ground. As I wasn't able to stand up myself the members of OMON began to beat me. I don't remember the moment I got to the military bus. The left side of my body was injured but the men in the bus denied me in any medical assistance. I could receive some help only in the police station."

After some 15 activists were detained for two hours, they discovered why they had been arrested. "The reason for our detention was that the FSDC just wanted to speak to us about the harms of drug and any actions devoted to their legalization," the activist wrote. "It sounded very funny and absolutely illegal. After three hours at the police station, all of us were released from custody without any claims, fees or protocols and could continue the Cannabis Walk."

But the effects of Saturday's events will linger. "As a result of this amiable drug education lesson with the representatives of law I now have a fracture of a clavicle and several less painful but much more effective injuries -- a good illustration of their methods of leading discussion as well as a good occasion for further legal struggle," the Russian activist wrote.

Australia: The annual Mardi Grass festival in Nimbin took place on schedule for the 16th straight year, but not without a heavy police riot squad presence, numerous arrests, a preemptive April Fool's Day raid, and the preemptive closure of two Nimbin icons, the Hemp Museum and the Hemp Bar, on the suspicion that marijuana had been sold there in the past. Still, some 15,000 people showed up to enjoy themselves and support marijuana legalization.

Police reported a total of 85 people either cautioned or charged with minor drug offenses at the festival, with an additional 42 people caught by drug-sniffing dogs outside the township. Of those, 38 received cautions. Police also cautioned "hundreds" of people for drinking in alcohol-free zones and arrested eight people for drunk driving after subjecting more than 2,500 people to random breath tests.

Organizers complained that police crackdowns on pot had led to an increase in alcohol and hard drug use at the festival, but added that the law enforcement operation had only advanced the cause. "It was a great Mardi Grass regardless, and we want to thank the New South Wales Police for reinvigorating interest in cannabis law reform," Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) Embassy spokesman Michael Balderstone told the Echo News. "Oppressions bring out the true believers, and we heartily thank the hundreds of volunteers, both local and international, who missed much of the festival to create it for the rest of us."

Recalcitrant local authorities may attempt to repress marijuana legalization activities, whether in Rio or Moscow, Antwerp or Nimbin. But in each instance where they have attempted to silence the cries for drug war justice, they seem only to have raised the profile of the issue.

Feature: Drug Reform Goes to the Big Easy -- The 2007 International Drug Policy Reform Conference, New Orleans

In its biggest show of numbers yet, the drug reform movement gathered in New Orleans last weekend for the 2007 International Drug Policy Reform Conference. More than 1,200 activists, harm reductionists, treatment providers, drug users, law enforcement professionals and government officials came together in this city devastated just over two years ago by Hurricane Katrina to listen to speakers and panels, hob-nob in the hallways, and experience the reality of post-Katrina New Orleans. Panelists and attendees arrived in New Orleans from across the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Poland, Colombia, Bolivia, Argentina, Mexico, Hungary, Brazil, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
conference plenary session (courtesy
"There has never been a gathering this big on this issue before," said Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann as he greeted attendees on the conference's opening day. "We're trying to build a movement for freedom and justice, science and compassion, and human rights. We're coming from the left and the right, from law enforcement and from being arrested, from those who love their drugs and those devastated by drugs. But we all agree on the conviction that this war on drugs, this policy of punitive prohibition, has got to go," he said to clamorous applause.

The war on drugs is about race, said Nadelmann. "This is all about race -- no, it's mostly about race," he said. "We know who is mostly getting arrested, beaten up, and convicted. If the people behind bars were not black or brown, but white, this policy would change like that," he said, snapping his fingers.

Nadelmann's remarks came on the opening morning of the three-day conference hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance, and co-hosted by Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the Marijuana Policy Project, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Harm Reduction Coalition, and the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation.

Also on the conference's opening day was a speech by Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, who told a boisterous and sometimes combative audience of drug reformers that while a drug-free world is probably not attainable, it is almost certainly desirable, and that he would continue to work toward that goal. Costa took more flak in a question and answer session immediately following his speech.

The selection of New Orleans for this year's conference was especially appropriate, given the conference's emphasis this year on increasing racial diversity within the movement and the city's tawdry reputation when it comes to criminal justice and drug policy. In addition to attending conference functions, hundreds of conference-goers traveled to the ghost town-like 9th Ward to see first-hand the storm's devastation and the equally devastating lack of reconstruction in the area. Dozens more attended sessions devoted to familiarizing them with drug reform-related issues in New Orleans and meeting with local activists and officials.

Drug offenders are jailed at one of the highest rates in the nation in New Orleans, speakers said. Poverty is high, treatment options are limited, the justice system is in a post-Katrina crisis (as if it were in good shape before the storm), yet the drug war continues to roll along. "The criminal justice system in New Orleans was always in a sad state of affairs, yet very good at making a high number of arrests," said Bruce Johnson of the National Development Research Institute, who is working on an analysis of post-Katrina drug markets.

"We've been known for a long time for having the worst and most corrupt police force in America," said Morris Henderson, an organizer with Safe Streets, Strong Communities, a local community group. "Our police department is making 900 to 1000 arrests a week, but 85% of them are people arrested for paraphernalia or marijuana possession or having one or two rocks of crack," he said. "Our system has been overwhelmed by this approach, and now we have a unique opportunity in this city to change the frame. We're tired of being last in what everybody else wants to be first in. We've been fighting this unjust drug war for 40 years, and it's time for something sensible to be done."

The conference also attracted at least one local congressional candidate, Democrat Gilda Reed, who is running to replace Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal, who vacated the seat to become Louisiana governor. "There is so much going on here," she said in the lobby of the Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel on Canal Street. "It's really quite amazing," she said after meeting with high-powered drug reformers and listening in on sessions Friday afternoon.

Throughout the three-day conference, attendees were treated to a dizzying array of panels, speeches, roundtables, and working sessions on almost every conceivable aspect of drug policy and drug prohibition. On Friday morning alone, conference-goers had to choose between "Who Else Should Be Diverted From Prison," "Prescribing Heroin," "Marijuana and Health: Risks and Benefits," "Beyond Zero-Tolerance: Experience it For Yourself," "Understanding and Preventing Opioid Poisoning: A National Perspective," and "Building Momentum in Congress," before coming together for a plenary session on "Black America: The Debate Within." (See the conference web page for a complete listing of panels, all of which are now available for sale on audio.)

While the drug reform movement has long been criticized (and has long criticized itself) for being overwhelmingly white, organizers this year took pains to make race and the drug war a central issue, and it seemed to make a difference. The number of non-white faces in the crowd, while still a distinct minority, was noticeably larger than at any other national drug reform conference.

During Friday's plenary session, among others, the movement confronted the race issue head on. "We have never effectively dealt with the issue of racism as we should," said the Rev. Edwin Sanders, a leading black clerical voice for drug reform. "Here in the drug reform family, we need some serious conversation about this issue. Sometimes, you don't appreciate the dynamics of power and elitism."

"From the beginning, combating the war on drugs has been about two major principles: the principle of personal autonomy and freedom and the principle of racial equity and justice," said Ira Glasser, former executive director of the ACLU. "The war on drugs violates those principles egregiously. From the beginning, this was a war driven by race. The only prohibition that was ever repealed was that on alcohol, the favorite drug of the white majority," Glasser noted. In the wake of the end of formal segregation, "the war on drugs has become a replacement system for the subjugation of black citizens," he added.

Where are the mainstream civil rights organizations?, asked Nadelmann. "If they were to come here, they would see what's possible and what kind of constituents they truly have. There is such tremendous energy, drive and passion here," he said. "People feel the suffering in their communities, and they recognize that drug policy reform is one of the key ways to go about changing what they are seeing and experiencing."

For black America in general and the hip-hop generation in particular, drug reform activism is only part of a larger struggle, said Dr. James Peterson, a Bucknell University English professor and hip-hop scholar. "Drug policy and drugs in general are part of an interconnected series of challenges for them," he said. "First, there is the prison industrial complex and an aggressive justice policy. We think of over-incarceration in general as being the larger problem. Second, if you consider what crack did to inner city communities, it is difficult to think of drug policy reform rather than the destruction of certain illegal drugs in their communities. Third, gangs and gang related violence, again linked to drugs, but seen as more of a problem. Fourth, the proliferation of guns in general," Peterson said.

And so the long overdue movement conversation on race and racism begins to move within the movement. If something comes of these conversations on race in New Orleans, that will be the 2007 conference's greatest achievement.

[Editor's Note: No single article can accurately encapsulate what went on at the conference. Look for more Drug War Chronicle articles based on what we learned at the conference to appear in coming weeks. Click here for links to more coverage.]

The Sentencing Project: Disenfranchisement News & Updates - 5/18/07

National: It's Right to Grant Citizens the Right to Vote The Sentencing Project's Director of Advocacy, Kara Gotsch, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post in support of Maryland's recent move to reform the state's disenfranchisement policies. She wrote: "The scarlet 'F' worn by millions of Americans because of past felony convictions faded for some on April 24 as 52,000 citizens who live in Maryland regained their right to vote. For many people returning from prison, basic human needs, such as food and shelter, take priority over voting rights, but civic engagement is a crucial next step that influences the likelihood of successful reintegration and rehabilitation. Research shows that, among those who have been arrested, 27 percent of nonvoters were re-arrested, compared with 12 percent of voters. Voting promotes public safety because people who vote feel more connected to their communities and avoid falling back into crime." Pennsylvania: Disenfranchisement is an 'Iffy Proposition' "You see, in the United States, if you've committed a felony, voting is an iffy proposition," writes Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Annette John- Hall. Stating the advantages of re-enfranchisement, including decreasing recidivism rates and civic responsibility, John-Hall applauded Pennsylvania's disenfranchisement laws which allow those on probation and parole to vote. She also frowned upon the states that do not have such provisions and listed the cons of banning formerly incarcerated individuals from voting. The columnist focused on Reggie Henderson, operator of three barber shops in the state. Henderson, a formerly incarcerated African-American male who voted last week for the first time since being released from prison, noted that the mayoral primary was so important that "You've got no choice but to pay attention to it." See the Philadelphia Inquirer. Virginia: In Opposition to Reenfranchisement A reader submitted a letter to the editor in opposition to a (Newport News, Va.) Daily Press re- enfranchisement editorial. The reader, who identified himself as a crime victim wrote, "society's debt isn't paid until a felon has satisfied all of his victims for their tangible losses and mental anguish - and has publicly shown that he has truly turned his life around." International: Individuals Allowed to Vote in Iceland Prison Persons incarcerated in south Iceland's maximum security prison Litla-Hraun in were allowed to vote this week, according to the Iceland Review. Forty-two of 65 eligible voters, or 65 percent, chose to cast a ballot. Of the 77 individuals serving a sentence in Litla-Hraun, 12 are foreign citizens who were not eligible to vote. - - - - - - Help The Sentencing Project continue to bring you news and updates on disenfranchisement! Make a contribution today. Contact Information Email: [email protected] web:
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