Cultural Baggage, October 8, 2008
Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.
My name is Dean Becker. I don't condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.
Dean Becker: Hey wait a minute; I'm not 64, though I am getting rather close. Today is my birthday, and it's also the day we celebrate 7 years of the Drug Truth Network and of Cultural Baggage, the flagship of the mother ship, I guess. Today we are going to take a serious look at a very serious problem, voter disenfranchisement. And with that I want to go ahead and bring in our guest from the Sentencing Project, Mr. Ryan King.
Ryan King: Hi Dean, Happy birthday.
Dean Becker: Thank you sir. Yeah Ryan it's not a happy day for a lot of folks around this country, for numerous reasons. You guys had a recent report dealing with voter disenfranchisement, why don't you summarize that for us.
Ryan King: Sure we looked at the, actually, a little, tried to take a positive angle and looked at the legislative changes in founding disenfranchisement policy in the last eleven years just to sort of take a step back. To the beginning for the listeners who may not be familiar, in 48 states, and the District of Columbia, a felony conviction can result in the lose of voting rights, for people who are incarcerated.
Maine and Vermont are that only 2 states in which individuals in prison are permitted to vote for felony convictions. Probation and parole, 35 states being under supervision of probation and or parole can result in the loose of voting rights, and there are 10 states in which a felony conviction can result in a lifetime loss of voting rights.
The impact nationally is, the estimates are about 5 million Americans are currently disenfranchised as a result of a felony conviction, and I'm sure your listeners won't be surprised to know that it has a disproportionate impact in African American communities. So that's kind of the concern about the policy. Our report was to take a look at in the last 11 years since 1997; around when the time we issued a report in conjunction with Human Rights Watch documenting the states by state impact of this policy, and obviously in the wake of the 2000 election in Florida where this issue really reached a national profile. And since then this is an issue I think frankly, 11 years ago most Americans didn't know existed.
And since then it has received a much higher profile, whether it be through reports and research and public advocacy or a lot of the razor thin margins of elections at the federal, state and local level that have brought people to think more about voter registration, voter turn out, purging, etc. And so our report, actually, from a positive side, shows that, despite the fact there still are estimated to be about 5 million Americans who cant vote, in the last 11 years policy changes in 19 stats have resulted in the restoration of the vote to about 760,000 people across the country. So there is a silver lining to an otherwise dark cloud.
Dean Becker: Now there is also, you guys kind of dispelled the rumor, if you will, the innuendo that once you've been incarcerated you can no longer vote, many prisoners think that's the case, right?
Ryan King: Well, I think anybody, if you were to land in the middle of United States in 2008 and look at the criminal justice climate and be asked any question about criminal justice policy, your guess will probably be that the answer is the most severe penalties are the ones that apply.
So I think for most Americans, in a culture of tough on crime, mandatory minimums, life with out parole, capital punishment, drug war arresting hundreds of thousands, millions of people over the course of years. Most people would say, “Yeah I presume that I can't vote.”
And they don't bother to ask the question, and frankly a lot of surveys of election officials show that even the state officials and agencies aren't aware of what the laws are. So most Americans, that many of whom are eligible to vote even if they have a felony conviction aren't aware of what the law is and that's a second layer of a tragedy of a really wrong headed policy.
Dean Becker: Well you guys have, brought focus to bare on many of these problems, if you will, with the criminal justice system over the years. And one that still resonates, and I think not too far back you guy had another major report about the implementation, the creation of more S.W.A.T. teams more arming of our police forces, more like the military, right?
Ryan King: We didn't do a report on the S.W.A.T. team, and that might have been Justice Policy Institute, it certainly an issue we pay attention to, we had issued a report recently looking at the war on drugs for the last 25 years or so, kind of an overview of where we came from and where we are now, and looking at law enforcement patterns.
We more recently issued a report, earlier this summer looking disparity by geography, which is the racial disparity in arrest, and certainly the militarization of our domestic police force, in its pursuit of drug crimes has been directly tied into that increase in arrest rates.
Dean Becker: I know you guys have, over the years tired to awaken government agencies and the media, to the need to reexamine what we're up to and the results of what we've been up to, right?
Ryan King: Yes, absolutely, that is our mission. We are a public education and advocacy organization, so we are doing research here, and our goal is to try to keep these issues in the public eye. I mentioned earlier talking about felony voting rights that I think that the positive changes that we've seen, that the silver lining has come directly as a result of the public awareness of this issue increasing.
Americans are finding out that this policy exist and they don't like it. In fact 80% of Americans believe that you should have you right to vote restored after you've completed any sort of sentence.
And about two thirds believe that anybody whose out in the community under supervision, living, owning a home, paying taxes, raising a family, working a job should have the right to vote as well.
So the change in the policy comes as a direct result of public education. I think the, some what of thawing of the sort of tough on drugs climate that we lived through during the first Bush administration has come about in public education, we are certainly not where we want to be, but we're much further ahead than we were lets say 20 years ago.
Where there are elected officials that are willing to come out and say that there's a better way, we need to invest treatment, arresting all these people is not necessarily the strategy we need to be perusing. We have a long way to go as I said to get to our ultimate goal. But I think public education, and getting the public to understand the consequences of these, and then put pressure on their lawmakers. I'm a firm believer that policy change has to come from ground up it can't, you can't get it from the top level down.
Dean Becker: Well, I think the mechanics of this drug war has kind of reared its ugly head, so to speak, over the last few years, the financial, you know, just wasting of billions of dollars, the fact that, you know, we're not providing the treatment, that people are rearrested, approximately a third of them, I think in many states, within a couple of years of being released. And I guess underling it all is the racial disparity that allows states like Texas to arrest enormous amounts of people thousands per hundred thousand, on a yearly bases for minor amounts of drugs. Lets talk about the racial disparity.
Ryan King: Sure, you touched on; we did a report looking at the racial disparity at different city levels from 1980 to 2003, looking at FBI UCR data, and we found, I think quite surprisingly, that the disparity in drug arrest in 1980 was not particularly significant. I mean there was in most cities their African Americans were arrested at a slightly higher rate than whites, and the numbers of cities whites were actually arrested at a higher rate.
But fast-forward to 2003 and that ratio between white and black drug arrest rates had really skyrocketed. And what it was was a direct result was in 1980 under the Regan administration there was a real commitment to the war on drugs. There was a commitment of federal funding. It was in many ways helping to lead state and local policy by providing federal dollars. And the result of that was that there were many, many more arrests for drug offences from low level all the way up to higher level.
And they happen disproportionately in African American communities, despite the fact that what we know from both drug sale as the graphic data of drug sale as well as house hold survey data on drug use is that African Americans do not disproportionately use drugs, do not disproportionately sell drugs, but they certainly are disproportionately perused, arrested, convicted, and sentenced to prison for drug offences.
Dean Becker: Lets talk a few specifics on that, I mean, I think for the US, what is it, about 780 per 100,000 as a general number across the board?
Ryan King: That are incarcerated?
Dean Becker: Yes.
Ryan King: In the neighborhood, correct. That are incarcerated, for all offences, not just for drug offences.
Dean Becker: Right. And then?
Ryan King: I don't have a number specifically for drug offences.
Dean Becker: And then for the blacks being arrested, do you have that number?
Ryan King: For arrest or incarceration?
Dean Becker: For incarceration.
Ryan King: For incarceration, I don't have a number; I can tell you it varies. In particularly, in, to give you a flavor of what it would look like, the incarceration rates for young African American males are in the neighborhood of 10% or so of young African American males are incarcerated on any given day. And of course we had issued a report, a few years ago, at this point, although there's no indication that this data will change, that about 1 in 3 young black men are in the criminal justice system under correctional supervision on any given day.
And of course there was also some data that came out showing that 1 in 3 black males born today can expect to spend some time in their life in prison. Those are particularly disturbing numbers, I think, for anybody to have to consider.
You know the direction, the impact and I think at some point you really need to take a step back and say to your self, “Well, ok.” If this is, in deed, our policy, that we're going to be arresting 10 and 15% of a particular age group of young African American male, whether you think that African Americans are committing more crime or not, that's got to suggest to you that there a problem.
I am looking at data right now, and the percentage of persons held in state or federal prison or local jails, as of June of 2007, and to give you some perspective of that, you know, that for African American males its almost 18% for 20 to 24. So there significant numbers there, and I think that's certainly a real concern.
Dean Becker: Lets talk about the crack verses powder cocaine disparity. Its set out at 500 grams of powder to 5 grams of crack, and yet, truthfully you can take the 500 grams of pure powder, take one gram out, mix it with 7 grams of baking soda and you suddenly have 8 grams of crack, 5 of which is equivalent to the 499 sitting on the other side of the table. So its real five eights of a gram of pure powder verses the 500, right?
Ryan King: Yeah, I mean, that's been one of the, this is an issue that we've been working on for 20 some years. The fact that there's differential punishment for essentially the same substance, I often equate it to drinking alcohol in some sort of liquor verses drinking beer or wine.
If you get pulled over for driving while intoxicated, your punishment is not any different whether it was based upon doing shots of vodka or drinking a case of beer. You are under the influence and you are punished accordingly. And in this particular case, it's the same situation; their underlining substances are the same, yet the method of delivery is very different, one is snorted and one is smoked, and the punishments are different based upon that.
And of course, the attention grabber on this is issue is the fact that 82% on average, of federal defendants, who are convicted each year, in federal court for crack cocaine, are African American, despite the fact that household survey data suggest that about two thirds of regular crack cocaine users are either white are Latino.
Dean Becker: Now we have, I think it was just a week ago Zogby International, released a poll which indicated 76% of Americans think the drug war's a failure. Yet I called up their PR guy, did an interview with him, and he tells me that I was the only media to call him in that regard. Now, I realize we got financial failure in all kinds of things going on, but it does say something about the media when they just totally ignored that fact that 76% Americans see it as a failure.
Ryan King: Yeah, this gets back to what I mentioned earlier on, there's a real fatigue around a lot of these issues and its something that we certainly think about here daily at the Sentencing Project, which is ways to continue to keep people thinking about this.
You know, I think from a media perspective, you know the editor of the newspaper thinks, “Well, you know, so what, we've already known that, everybody knows it a failure.” When I talk about the fact that, you know, 18% of people who are in prison, African Americans who are in prison, young males are young, you know, basically, so in other words, you're talking about the lion's share of African Americans who are incarcerated are young people.
These are people who at 20 to 24, you know, almost 1 in 5 of African Americans who are incarcerated are between 20 and 24 young African Americans male.
These are people who should be in college; they should be beginning their lives. Rather than be spending it, in their formative years incarcerated. These are shocking numbers, the 1 in 3 figures, I mentioned earlier, shocking numbers, yet the fact is that, by in large, I think a lot of people think, “Oh yeah, we know that, and yes you're right, it is bad.
But what are we going do about it? You know, what do we do about it?” And so, the struggle with the war on drugs, the struggle with racial disparity in the incarceration system has been to try to overcome the fatigue that I think a lot of the public feels, which is that “We've known about this for a while, and nothings really changed.”
And frankly when we issue reports, we frequently, one of the first things we'll get from a newspaper journalist or an editor is will be, “Well you know why, why do I need to pay attention to this, we already know this.” And, you know, that to me, is what's dangerous, because whether you think you know it or not, the fact is that the policy's still there and until there's some substative change that's made to this policy, then, you know, we're going to be issuing these repots every 6 months and there's going to be more and more people's lives that are turned upside down by this.
Because policy makers apparently are not getting the message that the public is fed up with these policies. So, you know, I put the burden, I turn that back upon the public, as I said earlier, change has to come from the ground up.
The public has to hold policy makers accountable for these statistics, these facts, these personal stories of people's lives who've been ruined based upon the war on drugs, people whose doors have been kicked in and been victimized by law enforcement here in my own neighborhood.
I'm sure you are aware of the story about the Mayor of the small town outside of Washington, D.C., the S.W.A.T. team, and he had ended up kicking the door down, killing both of his dogs, handcuffing his mother-in-law on the floor, and it turns out to be, that they were at the wrong address, and they had some incorrect information. This was the Mayor of this small town who was victimized by this, I mean, this happens time and time and time again.
And, you know, I just think that, it both illustrates the tragedy as well as it sort of works against us because, I think, a lot of Americans are just sort of like, “Oh, I've heard that before.”
Dean Becker: Well, a similar story to that Mayor you were speaking about, I think it was a former Mayor of a town in Kansas, who had his door kicked in, the S.W.A.T. team, you know, guns raised and so forth. And they were busting him for marijuana, and it turns out what they saw were young sunflower plants, and this in the state where the sunflower is the state flower. It just, I don't even know how to say it, there is no stalling this effort, that if the cops, or the effort was done in the, “need to stop the drug flow,” they can kill people. They can do so many things, and get away; it's justified some how, your thoughts.
Ryan King: You're right; it gets back to the public holding both policy makers as well as law enforcement accountable. In the case of the Governor, oh pardon me, Mayor outside of Washington, D.C., the sheriff of Prince George's County, did not apologize, thought, said they were justified in killing the 2 dogs, they had information, turns out that the information was incorrect, but they were acting on information and were within their guidelines to pursue this offense that they thought had occurred.
And you know, you read countless stories where law enforcement has overstepped their bounds particularly on drug raids, and you read these countless stories about people who are arrested and incarcerated and they're innocent and exonerated later on.
And the prosecutor is not held accountable, and law enforcement is not held accountable, and the politicians who put the laws in place are not held accountable. So this coming full circle, why would you expect anybody to really care about the fact that the public says that three quarters of the public does not support the war on drugs. When they're not holding their policy makers, their not holding practitioners accountable for that.
That to me is the disconnect we have, I do believe the public opinion survey, I don't think its inaccurate, or inflating the American sentiment on the policy, but the message is not getting through to law makers. We see this also in support for mandatory minimums; we've seen a lot of public support for repeal, reformation to mandatory minimums, policy makers don't act on that.
And I go back to the old mantra that I've said, until a tough on, a law maker who runs on a tough on crime policy loses an election, because he or she chose that tough on crime platform, then policy makers, politicians are not going to change their approach.
Dean Becker: Well, you know, I give talks on behalf of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, varies locales around the mother ship city here, and I went to Cut and Shoot, Texas, you know. And I spoke to a Lions Club, average age probably 75 or 80 years old. And when I left, 95 maybe 100% of the people that had gathered were in favor of ending the drug war. It's not a fluke, that Zogby poll.
Ryan King: Sure, no you're absolutely correct. But the message isn't getting through to politicians; I mean you take a look at, even reading some of the campaign literature that's circulating around Washington, D.C., regarding the McCain / Obama campaign, there's been some discussion that Senator McCain may try to pull out materials showing Senator Obama's support for repealing the crack cocaine / powder cocaine disparity that we discussed earlier as a way to attack Senator Obama, that's he's soft on crime.
And there has been some earlier material suggesting that Senator Obama's not tough enough on gangs, he's not tough enough on crime, and that Senator McCain will be much tougher on crime.
So the fact that Senator McCains's handlers are still thinking about this, they're still preparing those materials, they're still having them available, for public events where they deem them appropriate, suggest to me, that the people who run these campaigns, still think that the tough on crime approach can be affective and can be a way to score points against an opponent.
Dean Becker: Well, all right, once again, we've been speaking with Mr. Ryan King, of the Sentencing Project, Ryan I want to give you a minute, if you will, to give your web site and tell the folks about the Sentencing Project and the work you do.
Ryan King: Our web site is www.sentencingproject.org, Sentencing Project is all one word. We are an independent, non-profit, research and advocacy organization, we tend to, as I mentioned earlier in covering, we, a number of our reports, a lot of the data and statistics that I've been spouting off here, come from reports, everything that I've said here is pretty much available on our website in printed form available free for download. And so we try to educate the public by issuing these reports, by going out and talking at public events, at universities, on radio shows like this, we also try to get in touch with policy makers, the people who can make the change.
And our goal is to simply broaden the discussion about punishment, crime and punishment in the United States. The fact of the matter that we've been using this kind of unilateral incarceration or nothing approach, that we believe has failed, its been a catastrophic failure since the early 1970s, when it kicked in to gear.
And that, you know, there are other alterative out there, and frankly your policy makers, your politicians are not letting you know that those are out there. And our goal is to get, as I mentioned earlier, get the people from the ground up to recognize and demand from their politicians change in criminal justice policy. So I urge all your listeners to visit our website, to read the material, and to get involved.
Dean Becker: Mr. Ryan King, thank you so much, we'll be in touch soon my friend.
Ryan King: Thank you, take care.
Dean Becker: All right, bye, bye.
Ryan King: And happy birthday.
Dean Becker: Thank you.
It's time to play, “Name That Drug by Its Side Effects”.
Hives, fainting, pains, swelling, tiredness, headache, fever, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, itching, bruising, stomach ache, shortness of breath, chest pain, swollen glands, weakness, tiredness, seizure, blood clots, and death. Time's up. The answer from Merck &Co., Gardasil, which may help prevent cervical cancer in your teenage daughter.
Phil Jackson: And now, for another Black Perspective on the drug war.
For 500 years, black people in America have had a single common desire, to be free. And for 500 years we have been denied our freedom. First with whips and chains, then with terrorist attacks and lynching, now with institutionalized discrimination and racial bigotry at all levels of our society. The war on drugs is just American's the latest tool of black enslavement. Drugs and drug use has always been a part of American culture but, was only, when black people stood up together, with their fists raised in a militant of demand for our freedom in the 60s, did a tidal wave of drugs flooded or communities.
Our demands for economic justice were not answered with jobs, factories, and tax reform, but with a booming drug industry that presented a tempting alternative to grinding poverty. The drug war trap, it was not set by black hands, no growers, importers, wholesales, or money men, came from the black community. Only the lowest level of the drug business where open to blacks. The street level distributors, and there too, the law enforcement efforts were centered, keeping the lion's share of damage, crime, violence, and death in the black communities.
The way to freedom for black people in America is not through drug prohibition. The drug war is a trap set by those who would return us to bondage, but so too, are the drugs themselves. So be ware. To paraphrase Garrett Smith, a long ago abolitionist candidate for president, the lot of the literal slave, of him whom others have enslaved, is indeed a hard one, never the less it is paradise compared with the lot of him who has enslaved himself to drugs. For the Drug Truth Network, this is Phil Jackson.
This is, Terry Nelson, of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. More funding for violence requested. Governor Rick Perry accepted the Border Security Council's report and asked the legislators to support continued border security funding to protect our state.
Perry said he would ask the state legislator, which in 2007, approved a 110 million dollars to fight border crime, to provide another 24 million, to hire more police, up grade law enforcement technology, and enhance multi agency intelligence training. He stated, one of the most significant treats to our state's security is the rise of the ruthless and powerful transnational gangs. And that working with local law enforcement we will bring unprecedented pressure to bare on the leadership structure of these gangs and grind them down, one tip at a time, one conspiracy at a time, one gang at a time.
Oh boy, we heard that one before. He was referring to gangs, which included Mexican mafia, Texas syndicate, Barrido Azteca, and MS 13, gangs that are threatening Texas citizens. These increasingly sophisticated organizations are expanding their influence across our borders, recruiting members in our schools, communities, and prisons.
If you look at page 15 of the report, approximately 45 million dollars is budgeted for overtime assignments out f the estimated 63 million dollars requested by the 08 / 09 budget. This leads me to believe this is to be a short-term effort, and the planist beleive will win this war in short order. I'm will bet a large sum of money that a victory will not happen soon. So if the reason they are budgeting for overtime, which should be a short-term fix, instead of full time employees, it is they will believe it will be over soon, then let them say that.
What overtime does, is ask an officer to work over 40 hours a week and thus not get optimal alertness. Long hours make officers more susceptible to mistakes; some of those mistakes can be fatal, for the officer, his partner, or someone else. This is not acceptable to me. I'm a retired federal officer, with more than three decades of service to my country; most of those years were spent on the southern border, with the remainder in Mexico, Central and South America.
I now serve on the executive board of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, at www.leap.cc, and I testify that this war on drug is fueled by one thing; the emesis profit squandered by the drug cartels and gangs. And that 134 million dollars would be much better spent fixing the problem instead of continuing it. The simplest, most efficient and humane way to end the war on drugs, is to admit that it cannot be won, with the current policy. And discuss what needs to change in order to win. Lets work to make this a safer place for ourselves and our children. This Terry Nelson, LEAP, www.leap.cc, signing off.
Dean Becker: All right, I urge you to listen to our next Century of Lies, our judge will be, our guest will be Superior Court Judge James P. Gray and former Police Chief of Seattle, Norm Stamper, this prior to a DA debate we're having here at the mother ship. Please send me an email in that regards, email@example.com. And as always I remind you that because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful