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Drug Policies For The New Millennium . . . [continued]
Notes on the Lindesmith-DPF Conference, by Erowid Crew Member V
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Plenary Session IV
Race and the Drug War

The bad news: the drug war continues to assault black and brown communities at extremely disproportionate levels, tearing families apart, spreading disease, and denying basic personal freedoms to millions. The good news: never before have people of color been so mobilized to demand reform. Citizens and community leaders -- including many who once strongly supported the drug war - are joining forces in ever greater numbers to call for an end to America's new Jim Crow. Panelists discuss both trends.

James Forman, Jr.
Fellow, New America Foundation

I have to say a hard truth. I'm dismayed by the lack of people of color in this room. (This movement) has to take the first step. It must challenge itself to broaden its base of support.

I'm not saying to not be strategic. Strategy is important, it's smart and politically effective. But I do mean you have to look outside of your own comfort level, to look for that which is less visible.

Who are we?? What is this movement? What kind of movement is it.? The kind of movement willing to talk about not just drug possession but drug selling?

(loud clapping)

Because if we can't talk about drug selling, then we're not talking to all of the black and brown brothers and sisters who are incarcerated for trafficking in narcotics. If we're not willing to talk about drug selling, we're writing off that whole community.

Are we willing to move beyond marijuana? It's these other drugs and the drug war on these other drugs that is causing the majority of the suffering in the black and Latino community.

(So I ) bring up the question of policing. Policing is a drug reform issue for the African American and Latino community. Not just the sentencing, but the day to day harassment, the day to day subjugation that young black kids suffer every single day in the name of the war on drugs. This isn't even high level police brutality - I'm talking about day to day, stop, search, and frisk, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to some kids who are not in this room..

I think there are ways we can talk about the policing issue which is strategic and savvy. it is of great important to me because when I was frustrated about no schools and services, I started a public chartered school. In this school , kids have to go 11 hours a day, year round. They all work, they all have jobs. It's a wonderful program with great results, most of the kids graduate and go to college.

That's all good.. BUT. There's a problem - every day, we tell these kids, if you study hard, follow the rules, sacrifice short term for long term, there is a society out there that will open its doors to you if you're willing to play by the rules. Every day kids walk into our school and dedicate themselves -- and every day outside the school, they are tossed up against the wall by police officers who are fighting the war on drugs...

And they find that everything we just told them is a flatout lie.

(Our society) is sending these kids the message that the rules don't matter.. that they aren't fair, that these kids are worthless in the eyes of the law -- and the message that this unequal treatment will continue forever.

All the kids know this harassment does not happen across town , in the way it happens in these neighborhoods. It doesn't happen in the wealthy sections...and that undoes most of the good that we try to do.

The last thing I want to say, as we all think about these issues together, is --ask yourself, who is gonna take the first step? Who is gonna step outside their comfort zone? Is it enough to have this conference and have a panel., or do the folks in this room need to know what it is like to sit in a room that is mostly black and brown?

Everyone in this room has to take a risk , has to take a first step to go into these communities, not to tell them what you have to say, but to listen to what they have to say. To listen first, talk second.

I look forward to seeing you all in these meetings, and continuing this conversation.


Antonio Gonzales
President, William Valasquez Institute

(Intro by Chair Deborah Small, Director of Public Policy and Community Outreach, The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation

Mr Gonzalez has been incredibly instrumental in moving political parties (to acknowledge the Latino community). Less than five years ago governors were campaigning on an anti-immigration campaign. But they woke up when they found themselves voted out of office for having taken those positions. Political power is about holding elected officials accountable; the WOD is one area where politicians have not been held accountable.

Antonio Gonzales Buenas Dias!

(the audience says 'hello' back)

Truth is, my community and the leadership of my community have been silent on the consequences of the drug war. That silence has been rooted in opinion in our community. Go back 10-15 years and look at popular opinion in the Latino community, there was no one less popular than the subculture that uses drugs. (There was) popular support for hardline sentencing and laws, and an attitude of rejection of that subculture.. It's true.

It's true that advocating against the drug war was political death .. but that was real because of the connection to violence and especially gang violence in Latino communities. At one point in LA there were more killings than in the Salvadoran war, so there was a revulsion against gangs, drugs and violence.

But there has begun to be a sea change. Latino leaders are behind the curves, the community is ahead of their leaders. That's because the impacts are just too devastating, the consequences of the drug war are just too devastating. Too many people are in jail, addicted to drugs, abusing, without recourse to treatment. Too much is going on for the core of our community to stay with our conservative reaction.

The Latino population is 35 million people in the U.S. -- roughly equal to the Afro-American community and growing rapidly. We're slightly less than that in terms of our proportion of those who use illicit drug.. ten percent of those who use, but 22% of those in prisons on these charges. And we are 43% of all people brought up on drug charges, principally for marijuana.

If the ill-conceived policies of the drug war have led to poor focus on treatment, that is worse for the Latino community. Only about 10% of the drug treatment population is Latino, but it is much higher than that in terms of being charged and in jail.

Latinos are the most undercovered population in terms of health insurance, and have three times the poverty rate of whites, so our social conditions worsen the conditions of the drug war. Those are direct measurable consequences due to the wrong-directed War on Drugs, but there are downstream consequences as well.

There's AIDS... we represent 12%of the U.S. population, but are 18% of AIDS victims, half of those related to IV drug use.

Because of a large incarcerated population, a growing disproportionate number of those are currently disenfranchised - they cannot vote. A growing number of those convictions are related to drug sentencing laws (but there's no good data here though).

These things have driven a change in attitude in the Latino population. In Texas to Illinois, New Mexico, California, by a 6:1 margin, Latinos say the issue of drugs is a more serious problem than 10 years ago. And by a narrow majority, about 55-45 or 60-40, Latinos believe the War on Drugs is ineffective at resolving the drug problem.

And, opposition to Plan Columbia is high. And we now have an emerging majority in favor of needle exchange programs.

We have been talking about drug war impacts in the U.S. -this is important to us Latinos.. who are half foreign born, half foreign immigrants. The War on Drugs has changed migration patterns. Immigrants used to be mostly from Mexico and Central America. Now there are new streams.. from countries we are warring with due to the WOD. It creates streams of immigrants from those countries.

Most dramatic growth in those populations is among the South American population. Ninety percent of that is from the Andean countries, Columbia, Peru, etc.. The drug cultivating countries -- they are fleeing the destabilization.

Drug policy uses environmental racism as one of its policies. Pesticides banned in the U.S. are used in those countries. Ultimately we are talking about destabilization -- and militarization in fragile societies that were moving towards democracy.

And now they are being destabilized by the heavy hand of the United States, who says, just kill the plants we don't like. As we learned in Vietnam, what you do abroad you end up doing at home.

I'm a little hot on this issue. What we're seeing here in the U.S., is an erosion of democracy in the United States that correlates to our erosion of democracy in other countries. Our border and police are incredibly corrupted. Corruption is not just in Mexico, but in the U.S. The WOD has become the new anti-communism. A generation ago if you wanted to neutralize someone, and you were immoral, the easiest thing to do was to call them a communist, and their ideas would become rejected.

I have an example of how drug-baiting has replaced red-baiting, it will show you how this is being set up. Last month, the former Speaker of the California state assembly, the former president of the California ACLU, was leading in the race for mayor of Los Angeles. He won the primary, he had captured the mantle of healing in LA, after all the riots and viciousness, there is a need to be healed.

Until 10 days ago - his opponent, a prosecutor, launched a full- scale assault on him. It connected him with the drug trade because of his support for drug law reform, and because he advocated clemency for a small time dealer who a bishop and the LA sheriff also recommended for clemency.

He trashed the guy, basically, and implied he was a drug dealer.

My friends, this is what we have come to --. the real consequences of the drug war, the blocking of candidate willing to tackle the difficult issues, the erosion of our democracy. This is a principle weapon of the far right and of some of our friends in the democratic party.

We are launching a fight and we will be in this fight until we win.


Chair Deborah Small
Director of Public Policy and Community Outreach, The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation

The only way to deal with this is the truth.

(She introduces Theodore Shaw) He's a native New Yorker and attorney for the NAACP, the oldest civil rights orgaization fighting for people of color in the US. He resigned from the Civil Rights Commission in protest of Reagan's policies. (She speaks of how she and Teddy Shaw grew up in the same neighborhood)


Teddy Shaw
NAACP Legal Defense Fund


When you get a lot of hype, you can only disappoint people (laughter).

Let me tell you all I am standing up here as associate counsel of the NAACP. But I am not standing up here on their behalf. The Legal Defense Fund (LDF) is the oldest law firm for legal justice.

What do you tell an audience like this since y'all already know these statistics? I'm not sure what to say.. but then the problem becomes I have too much to say.

First, the LDF represented Kimba Smith, who at 24 was sentenced to 24 years in prison. She was prosecuted after her boyfriend (ex-boyfriend actually) was no longer available for prosecution because he was killed.

She had never sold, used, or handled drugs. She did support his business to a degree, but while she was in a relationship where she was threatened and beaten. She never said she didn't violate laws, but her sentences was vastly out of proportion to her role, and in fact is representative of problems of the drug war.

She was prosecuted and sentenced and gave birth to her child in a prison hospital. She went on to serve 6-7 years in prison. When we got the case she was already incarcerated. The judge said her being beaten was no excuse. We sought clemency, and Clinton granted it.

The war on drugs is a war on people of color. Among the privileged, drug use is ubiquitous, but it is not prosecuted. The WOD is a war on black and brown communities.

Most Americans don't know that. The image (projected by the media) is that it is black and brown people doing and using drugs. No one goes to the clubs where designer drugs are being used by primarily white people.

The War on Drugs defines relations between police and people of color. It defends the strip policies that mostly young men are harassed by. It is responsible for prison overcrowding. Someone compared prisons to the slave ships, people cheek by jowl. Needless to say, most of them are Afro American. It has a political effect - disenfranchisement. It distorts our foreign policies, and distorts our domestic policies.

I want to tell a story. During college, I saw a friend in the project, who didn't talk to me. To him, I was lame because I wasn't into what he was into. Two days later, someone told me he was shot in the parking lot. Now, Cyril had put himself in harm's way, as have many others. No one cared about them, but I think about them often. And it is hard for me to reconcile where I am in my life, and them. And the truth is, I feel uncomfortable. Anyone can tell these stories, and my story is not personally one of the worst stories. But I am saying, I don't know how I feel about drug usage, or drug policies. Even though many people I knew got high, I could not get where I wanted to go and be high.

What I do know and am clear on, is that most prisoners who are convicted of non-violent drug violations, are black and brown. That the War on Drugs is a war on my people, on people of color. And the failure to provide needles to those who are IV drug users is tantamount to murder by social policy.

And ultimately, not only murder but suicide, because if anyone thinks that he or she can insulate himself from the danger of HIV then that person is deluded. Ultimately, it will come to your door, your community, your house, and your child -- or you will be affected.

The War on Drugs legitimizes oppression. And at the end of the day, the Legal Defense Fund cannot stay out of this issue. We cannot stay out of addressing health care and so on without addressing the War on Drugs.

While we may have come to this fight late, we are in it now!

(cheers and applause)


The Honorable Maxine Waters
Member, United States House of Representatives

(a standing ovation from the crowd)

(Rep. Water spoke rapidly and densely; I couldn't catch it all)

I understand the Lindesmith center is on the cutting edge (of these issues). For the rest of my time in office, I am going to work on three things:
  • the reform of the drug war
  • the reform of the prison system
  • getting the resources necessary to deal with HIV/AIDS
I'm extremely moved that I'm here with the governor - because the left and the right CAN come together, and this is what will bring an end to the drug war. I think he's a man with courage.

To elected officials, I want to say - you're feeling lonely because of your work on the drug issue. (You see) dishonest politicians, making believe they are protecting the people by misusing their positions on crime and the drug war.

...But we have to make every effort. We are getting more and more friends coming together to deal with these wrong-headed policies (so don't lose courage). This is a homecoming and a reunion for me. (She then salutes a number of people in the audience)

The War on Drugs affects us all - from high numbers of blacks in jail, to their women, to their kids. (missed some) 89% of inmates are functionally illiterate - the higher the education you have when you leave prison, the less likely you are to return. (so we should be investing in rehabilitation, education).

Drug offenders are 21% of 1998 state prison inmates.

They are 58% of 1998 federal inmates.

Per 100,000 males in this country, 3209 black men are in prison, 1273 Hispanics, and 386 white males. Blacks are a third more likely to go to prison - thought they are only 12% of the overall population, and they are 15%of the drug users and 17% of the cocaine users, they are 33% of all federal convictions, and 57% of all federal cocaine convictions. (Before mandatory sentencing,) their average sentence length was 11% higher than whites; after, it has been 49% higher than whites.

The mandatory minimums are not fairly applied. Prosecutors, not judges, have the discretion (of who to put in jail), and they give more plea bargains to high level dealers.

(Rep Waters presented many more statistics - I couldn't catch them all.)

Eighty percent of female prison inmates are in prison as a result of their association with abusive boyfriends. Women with little or no involvement can serve longer sentences than their dealing boyfriends. Men are more likely to sell out their women to get a reduced sentence than vice versa.

Simple possession of crack cocaine is a felony, the only drug for which this is the case. Two-thirds of crack users are white or Hispanic, but the vast majority incarcerated for it were black - 84.5% .

Not only is this separating millions of families, but it perpetuates a cycle of crime. One half of all adolescents in trouble have a parent who have (been convicted of crimes).

I reintroduced a bill to eliminate mandatory sentences and allow the flexibility to put people on probation or suspend their sentences - this is crucial for first time offenders. Increase in dollars for treatment is estimated to be up to fifteen times as effective in preventing recidivism as mandatory minimums. Each dollar spent on prevention counts as 15 dollars in other areas. We have a type of apartheid that is an unfair distribution of resources.

We are losing too much potential, destroying too many families.

The community of people who want to speak to this issue is growing.

When I see that the president's daughters are defying their father and all that surrounds them... These are very privileged people, but they are driven to keep pursuing violation of laws, to keep pursuing alcohol . So we do know that it can happen at the highest levels. There's a lesson in this for all of us. It is time for us to use this moment to see if we can't open up more hearts and minds.

(lots of applause, standing ovation)


Rocky Anderson
Mayor of Salt Lake City

While those in power get a few jabs on Saturday Night Live (the comedy TV show, referring to Pres. Bush, Gore, others), many who have done the same things have had their lives and their families torn apart.

We have the largest prison population in the world. One of every 47 Americans is behind bars.

The annual cost of our prisons is $13.7 billion . Before mandatory minimums, drug offenders were 38% of those in prison - now they are about 60%.

Average sentences for first time non-violent drug offenders are longer than sentences for rape, child molestation, or bank robbery.

Our efforts have not decreased the drug supply. By any standard, the drug war is an unmitigated failure. Let's develop a replacement of the war on drugs. That will keep as its constant focus, harm reduction to individuals and societies. We can do it if we

  1. Articulate agreed -upon goal: reduction of harm caused by abuse of drugs.
  2. Figure out through research what will help us do this.
  3. Implement these measures.
The War on Drugs has been immensely dishonest, and millions of taxpayers have been the victims. The quality of data on what does work (for harm reduction) is too poor.. an incredible statement after the billions of dollars that have been spent. Why has our nation not dedicated resources to determine which programs are most helpful?

A few months ago DARE admitted their program wasn't working. Now they plan to use their infrastructure to implement pieces of other programs.

The National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Surgeon General finally panned DARE- But why did it take so long to prove its ineffectiveness? DARE has been part of the substance abuse problem rather than part of the solution.

Local harm reduction efforts work - in Salt Lake City, police are getting harm reduction training.

Punishments are legislated by power-hungry politicians - when instead we need to give judges a wide array of sentencing options and programs.

Finally, we know the most effective approach - go at the drug problem from the supply side. A DEA agent who came face to face with the Bolivian drug cartel said:

"I learned that not only do they not fear our War on Drugs, they count on it to weed out lesser dealers and to increase supply. The only thing they fear is an effective demand reduction program. "

It is no longer sufficient to criticize - let's create truly effective programs. Let's also commit to programs supported by peer-reviewed research.

While hundreds of thousands waste away in prison, our judges are not allowed to judge. Americans don't' know what they could replace the War on Drugs with, so they tacitly allow its continuation. Let us rise to the challenge and reduce the harm - we know there's a better way, let us pursue it together.

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