08/19/08 - Richard Burton

Richard P. Burton, Director of Project Reach & former chair of NAACP Prisoner Rights committee + Doug McVay of Drug War Fact & Misha Glenny discusses drug war on Charlie Rose/PBS

Century of Lies
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Richard Burton
Project REACH
Download: Audio icon COL_081908.mp3


Century of Lies, August 20, 2008

The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.

Dean Becker: Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. I’m really glad you could be with us. The mothership station is having an event later today, Toward a More Perfect Union, talking about how we can better arrange our system of government, of civilization, if you will, a way to cut down on the overabundance of racial profiling and indignity that it presents. And towards that end I’m especially glad to have with us today Mr. Richard P. Burton, Senior. He is the Chairman of the NAACP Prisoner Rights Subcommittee, and he’s also director of Project Reach. And with that, let’s welcome our guest, Richard Burton.

Richard Burton: Good Afternoon.

Dean Becker: Hello, sir. It’s good to have you with us. Richard, we met a few years back at an event up in, what was it, in Hartford? I believe...

Richard Burton: It was, it was Hartford at Trinity University, or Trinity College.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. And what they had done up there was to dare to investigate their judicial process, their, if you will, their imbalanced judicial system. Am I right?

Richard Burton: That’s correct.

Dean Becker: Tell us again about your duties as Chairman of the NAACP Prisoner Rights Subcommittee.

Richard Burton: I have to set something straight. As of last year, that title I no longer carry. So we will set that straight, however I was the Chair of the NAACP Prison Rights Subcommittee for a number of years and when I was there in Hartford I had that title along with Director of Project Reach, which is a re-enfranchisement effort that we do things across the country. But let me just tell you just a little bit about the effort. Cliff Thornton invited me to come up to Trinity, had a workshop and I was one of the people didn’t know how I felt about the whole concept of drug legalization but I did know the impact. As Chairman of the Prison Rights Subcommittee for the NAACP, we have a lot of information that had been shared with us, and just after the Brown decision in ‘54 we had some 87,000 African-Americans that were imprisoned across the country. And then, fifty years after Brown, it was 1.2 million. With that kind of data it made myself and others think, you know, something is very wrong and we need to address it. The education system has failed on us, let’s look at that. But that was a bigger issue with this. We started to look at some of the laws, like mandatory minimums, sentencing guidelines, you know, crack versus cocaine, those kind of things, and that led me and others up to the point of saying ‘something needs to happen.’ Then we looked at this according to the racial makeup, ethnic background, and we started to look at this and then we saw that poverty played a role, a key role in this equation. So, you know, there’s a lot of things that have gone on and I think that, from what I used to say to people, we should signal a code blue. This is very important, we are losing thousands of young people per year to the system but more importantly we have a lot of young people that are dying in the streets, literally war zones. And if we want to look at wars that are fought abroad we need to look at wars that are fought here. Now, this war has been two-fold. One is a war, the war on drugs, one that’s not winnable, has not been won, and we spend billions of dollars a year trying to win this. So I’m saying, in essence, that we need to change our course.

Dean Becker: I agree with you, sir. Now, it’s been my experience that, you know, I’ve been at this pretty heavily for about a decade now, and I have seen the shift in the mind-set of the general population and within the black community as well. I think more so in the last few years. As I’ve said many times, that if this drug war had the impact on the white community that perhaps one out of three of our children would be going to prison because of this drug war, it would have been over long ago. Would you address that thought for me, sir?

Richard Burton: I totally agree to that concept. I believe that race plays a role. I don’t believe it, I know it. And had it been -- give you a for instance, the whole Len Bias concept was fed to the African-American community and the white community, making people believe that he died, as a star basketball player, from an overdose of crack, so we were sold on that. Those were lies. According to some investigations that have gone on and some of the information that I got, you know, he died from cocaine overdose and not crack cocaine. So that alone allowed me and others to start to look at how race played a part but also the money. Now, we got to factor this in: if we’re going to make a change we have to factor in, we have to look at the racial makeup of the criminal justice system, we have to look at many -- and I respect police officers and law enforcement, I’ll never tell anybody to not do that -- however, we have to look at the impact that it has had on our community by over-policing as it relates to the drug epidemic. Also, the over-incarceration rate leading into the prison-industrial complex: it’s a multi-million dollar enterprise. We need to change that. And then we look at the young people that are in our schools, African-Americans and poor and other minorities and try to understand ‘why is that there’s a pipeline between the schools to a juvenile detention center or to a prison?’ Well, the answer is dollars, money. Slavery was abolished in 1865 and then after that we had other laws and then we had Jim Crow laws and now we have mandatory minimums and all this was developed to try to do exactly what it has done, to discriminate in many, many ways but also to carry slavery into this millennium. And it has worked just that way.

Dean Becker: It has indeed. You know, I’m writing a song and on the way in I was thinking of a line to balance around the thought that President Nixon’s still alive and he’s still filling prisons. Because it was him who called this drug war to the fore and people followed in lockstep. Politicians are still falling in lockstep, many of them, believing that that’s a way to get our votes. But I think that’s going to backfire on them here fairly soon. What’s your thought on that?

Richard Burton: It has already done that. Now, this is one of the things that I, and I’m agreeing with that, that you just mentioned, but here’s one thing that I think that can carry this conversation into a whole other level, to make some sense out of it. I was just looking at some cities across the country, Philadelphia, Hartford, Connecticut, Chicago, Illinois, Los Angeles and the crime rate, the murder rate in many of these cities are escalating. And if you look at the common denominator in most of these murders it’s turf, drugs, poverty and the lack of quality education. Failing schools are there. Now, if we want to save money, because we have a lot of states are saying ‘we don’t have tax dollars’ to take care of our infrastructure, then if you look at a state such as Florida, the governor, he cut education money, for education, but he asked for more dollars for incarceration or building jails or the criminal justice system. Period. What I’m saying is if we’re going to make a difference we have to look at how do we make sense out of leveling the playing field? Looking at the criminal justice system, looking at racism, looking at poverty and develop a proactive action plan. And this leads me to this point now. I had said earlier on I didn’t know how I felt about prohibition and the legalization of drugs but as I studied Al Capone and that whole era, there was a turf war in Chicago, there was a turf war in Detroit back in his day. And the reason was because they had illegal drugs and there was a lot of money involved in it. So a lot of lives were lost until somebody one day said ‘we need to make a change.’ That same concept needs to take place now. Immediately! And am I saying that we should legalize drugs? Something needs to happen, that that we’ve been doing or attempting to do all along is not working. So if legalization would be a part of what we need to do now to save our children I’m for it.

Dean Becker: Well, you know, it’s ironic or outlandish. It’s just plain crazy that this topic of discussion, this policy of drug war, the ramifications, the blowback, the horrors of it are never discussed at the major political level. I haven’t heard ten words out of either Obama or McCain in this regard.

Friends, you are listening to the Century of Lies show on the Drug Truth Network. Our guest, Mr. Richard Burton, former Chairman of the NAACP Prison Rights Subcommittee and Director of Project Reach.

Richard, earlier you were talking about how it impacts the individual and the families but it goes beyond that because in many instances when the breadwinner is sent to prison, or even if it’s the mother, and the child is left in the hands of the grandparent or something, as you reference the education level tends to diminish, the chances for that next generation seem to be in the wind, and it’s a perpetual and everlasting situation, I guess, if we allow this drug war to continue unabated. Your thought?

Richard Burton: Yes. Yes. There’s a side-effect to the drug war and the one that’s more embedded in my thinking is the loss of young lives, be they killed in the streets, in prison someplace doing forty, fifty years. But more importantly, if we look at the children that are left behind in many, many cases. Not just the young men that are going off to prison today but young women -- more and more women are filling our federal prisons or state prisons across this country. And so therefore the mother’s gone, the father’s gone, if there’s a father in the home, and then you have the grandmothers and grandfathers that are old and benefits they don’t have and they can’t take care of the children that are left behind. So as we look at that, that should be enough to say to this audience or any audience or to the politicians that are running for elected office or the presidential candidates. If you want to have a political conversation to do healing in this nation you must take a look at this. Grandmothers are getting old, grandfathers are getting older, those that are in prison they have their children come in there to visit them on many, many weekends as I travel in and out of prisons across this nation and it saddens me when I see little babies come in there to visit their mothers or fathers. The prison culture, as if nothing is wrong, so therefore if you look at recidivism -- they are not seeing anything wrong because when mom and daddy’s in jail they are on their best behavior. So when you are there and you’re in one of those holding rooms or places that you can eat some food with your family members, the children are laughing and playing because now they see perhaps a father that has been a drug addict and acting the fool all week long, he’s at his best behavior. Same thing with the mother or uncle or whomever. So what signal are we sending to our children? It’s OK to go to jail. So why in the world would I, as a young child growing up knowing that my father and my mother seem to be very happy and clean in jail, perhaps I might want to go there. A bad signal. America needs to wake up, we need to wake up and fix this before it goes further than what it is today.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. Earlier you were talking about the corruption of government, Chicago and Detroit with Al Capone and his ilk, and that continues in so many ways within the world community, especially here in the United States. We do a regular segment, the Corrupt Cop Story of the Week, and just today there’s a story here in Houston that broke. Terrence Richardson is going to charged with felony theft by a public servant. He’s accused of robbing narcotics from dealers during drug buys and that happens in probably every major city in America. Corruption, bribery, greed -- it’s all part of this drug war, right?

Richard Burton: Yes, absolutely. Corruption -- whenever there’s money, a lot of money involved, you know I can almost bet these are, I don’t have any data to back it up other than conversations with drug dealers and other people that I’ve had over the years, if you how many kilos of cocaine and you get caught, perhaps half of that might end up in the police department. The other half, where ever. I’ve had young people say to me, once they are stopped they let them go sometimes. And I said ‘for what reason? Did you get stopped and for what reason did they let you go?’ First of all, I had twenty thousand dollars on me and then ten thousand got reported. Those kinds of things need to stop. And I’m not saying that all police officers are corrupt like that but if you have few, if you have people that are corrupt enough to become like those other people, then we have a lawless society and it leads into nothing but corruption, Al Capone-like situation. And here’s one of the things we do in Project Reach. We do workshops across the country and cities to just alarm people just how bad it is and we have people from the corrections and people from the judicial side, on and on, to try to make some sense, to things that are going on. Here’s one of the things that I suggest to the viewers: if you truly want to make a change the best way to do it is to look at the people that represent you and the people that misrepresent you and if they’re not representing you the way that they should then you need to get rid of them if they are elected officials. If you look at our presidential candidates now, we have to look at them. And also, as we send emails and make calls and go to forums we need to say ‘we need conversations dealing with these issues.’ Yes, our economics are bad. Why are they so bad? Well, if you spend billions of dollars to incarcerate able bodied people that are drug addicts, let’s look at the cheaper version of corrections, meaning this for instance: I would love to see more of our young people go to college someplace, finish high school, go to college, help support them financially. It is much cheaper to educate a person. Perhaps if you look at the cost of incarceration on the scale -- it might run between forty and fifty thousand dollars a year. A lot of those people are never going to make that in a lifetime on a job. But if you would educate them, get them through college, pay perhaps ten, fifteen thousand dollars a year to help subsidize and then get them to an employment, we’ll see a shift in crime. On the state level, perhaps $30,000 dollars per year. Give the people jobs, give them education and allow them to make that kind of money and when we can decrease the amount of tax that we have to pay based on a common sense approach. That is one of the things that I would love to see us have some conversation on during this general election season.

Dean Becker: I would too. Once again, my friends, we’re speaking with Richard Burton, former Chairman of the NAACP Prisoner Rights Subcommittee. Richard, over this past weekend I got a chance, I was visiting with some Democrats. I’m not going to name any names. And I got to meet one of the higher-ups in the Texas Democratic Party. And I presented to him the thought that it’s a win-win situation for any politician willing to say ‘I want to destroy these gangs. I want to eliminate the reason these cartels are making billions on the other side of the border. And I want to stop feeding Osama’s cash cow.’ And he said ‘Look. Nearly every politician knows this, Democrat or Republican, they’re just afraid to speak up.’ And I said ‘well, how do we know that if these Democrats get elected that they’re going to make the change?’ And he says ‘Well, you just have to trust, that somehow that once they’re elected that the topic will come up and that they’ll make that paradigm shift.’ And I’m arguing with the gentleman, saying ‘it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to just trust and obey, ‘cause that’s what we’ve been doing all along.’ Your thoughts on that, sir? It’s necessary to get some sort of response from these politicians rather than just trust and obey, right?

Richard Burton: Absolutely. And the reason -- first of all let me tell you I’ve been doing this for probably 25 or 30 years and it saddens me to look at some of the leaders. We have some generic leaders that pretend and say good things when they come to public forums, then once they get to the State House or to Washington, DC, they change their whole conversation. Now, here again I said earlier, we need to hold them accountable. Now the parties, regard for what party when we vote for, I think that the most important thing is to look at one that will listen at you in advance of getting to the State House or getting to Washington, DC, and if they’re not listening we, as a community and grass root groups, need to say ‘enough is enough.’ If you get there and fool us one time the next time you come by we’re not going to get you. That’s one step that we can use. I could go on but here’s how I look at the political side of this whole piece: it didn’t work under Nixon, it didn’t work under the first Bush, it didn’t work under the second Bush, it did not work under Bill Clinton -- in fact, he put more money into building prisons than any president in the history of America in building prisons. So we have to look at both parties, they did not work. You have failed us. So we have to look at the one that might make a little bit more sense but we have to hold that person accountable. Now, if we think about the president, in a case like this we have to look at our congressional person. Lawmakers are the ones that we need to deal with in our district. We need to deal with them. There are a lot of judges that would want to do some of the things that we talk about but their hands are tied, based on lawmakers that made laws that basically discriminated, they have shown disparity, and if we want to hold somebody accountable right now we have to do it verbal by having shows like the one you’re having. I’d love to come to Houston to have my team to host a workshop and a forum, to bring some of these points out. We have some gifted young brothers and sisters that are part of my team and when we go places, the missing piece is the press. If we can get the press to come, because we can talk all we want. But more importantly, we need to get the people and the communities to come out and listen for themselves and make a decision on how they vote in November.

Dean Becker: Indeed we do. Richard, we got just a couple of minutes left and I want to kind of hand it to you. I mean, when you do your outreach, you know, what is it that bridges the gap, that reaches across the aisle, so to speak, that opens the dialog that perhaps will bring about change?

Richard Burton: One of the unique things that we do in Project Reach and one of the things that we deal with in NAACP for years, we would find a public forum that we knew that some politicians would be present, we knew that law enforcement would be present, we knew people from the court would be present, we would use or design based on who would be present, with the message that we’ve talked about today. And we would invite those persons to serve on a panel. Not that we would trick anybody but we said ‘listen, we need to go in this direction.’ Once you get people there you can convince them, and when I was at Trinity College, I was one of those people that sat up on that stage and I listened and I remember the Police Chief, I believe he was, there in Hartford, Connecticut, he started to change based on some of the conversations that took place during that forum. So this is what we do. We design it based on the community, our overall objective is to re-enfranchise. When we have an older audience, or audience that people pay a lot of money in tax for their homes and surroundings and thinking that things are going to be safe, we make it so real for them that they start to feel that it is better to educate over incarcerate. And we give them a tax piece, meaning that 30,000 to incarcerate, 15,000 to educate. Now wouldn’t that make sense to tax-payers?

Dean Becker: You betcha. And that’s the whole point. We can’t afford this drug war anymore.

Once again, my friends, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Richard Burton, former Chairman of the NAACP Prisoner Rights Subcommittee. Richard, thank you so much.

Richard Burton: It’s been my pleasure.

Dean Becker: All right.


Doug McVay: It’s all about the attitude.

The Partnership for a Drug Free America does more than fry eggs. For the past several years they’ve conducted an annual attitude tracking survey of young people and parents. The Partnership recently released its 2007 Teen Report. The most intriguing finding is that most young people feel that the biggest reason kids use alcohol or other drugs is to deal with the pressures and stress of school. The second biggest reason is to help kids feel better about themselves. This finding has broad and scary implications: scary because the Partnership’s most recent survey of parents found that only seven percent feel that school stress is a significant factor in young people’s drug use. All told, twenty-nine percent of parents claim they would know what to do if their child or teen seemed overly stressed about school. Let’s leave aside for now the question of whether those who claim they would know what to do are simply deluding themselves. One has to wonder how much overlap there is between those two groups of parents, the ones who have a clue and the ones who think they would know how to react. I would guess the answer is very little.

The Partnership’s attitude tracking survey also tracks use of some drugs and comes up with some surprising numbers, especially when one compares their figures with those from other national surveys. For example, according to the Partnership’s survey, about 16% of seventh through twelfth graders were monthly marijuana users. The major federal effort, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, estimates that only about 6.7% of young people ages 12 to 17 were monthly marijuana users. I’ve been a frequent critic of the NSDUH for underestimating users of illegal drugs. I’ve been a critic of the Partnership for a long time, too, though I must say these figures do appear more realistic.

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Dean Becker: The following comes to us courtesy of PBS and the Charlie Rose Program.

Announcer: Misha Glenny is here. During the early 1990s he was the Central Europe Correspondent for the BBC World Service. He is also the author of the books ‘The Rebirth of History,’ ‘The Fall of Yugoslavia,’ and ‘The Balkans.’ His new book is called ‘McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld.’

Misha Glenny: If I was involved in law enforcement, nuclear is where I would put a huge amount of my capacity.

Charlie Rose: Suppose drugs were legalized. What would it do to organized crime?

Misha Glenny: Well, I think it would largely, to a large degree pull the rug from under their feet. I...

Charlie Rose: It is their primary product.

Misha Glenny: ...I interviewed major exporters in Colombia and Canada, exporting marijuana into the United States, and I have rarely come across more fervent supporters of the war on drugs because the war on drugs is funding their lifestyle of easy, easy money. And if you were to, if not legalize it then consider other things like decriminalization or getting people to cultivate for medical purposes or whatever, you would basically take away their easy lifestyle.

Now, in Afghanistan this is a real problem. The Taliban was a defeated force in 2003. Since then it has rearmed, reorganized, refinanced itself almost exclusively through taxing the opium trade. And opium production in Afghanistan continues to go like that, on an exponential curve. The Taliban are killing NATO personnel with money that they are making on the drug trade and at one point someone’s got to realize that the war on drugs is fatally undermining the war on terror. And maybe Western policy makers will say ‘Hold it. What’s going on here?’

Charlie Rose: This book is called ‘McMafia.’ It’s getting a lot of very good reviews. Misha Glenny, the subtitle is ‘A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld.’

Dean Becker: All right, my friends. I hope you enjoyed today’s program. Be sure to tune into this week’s Cultural Baggage. Our guest will be Peter Moskos who just had a major piece published in U.S. News and World Report. He’s also a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

And as always I remind you there’s no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, no common sense, no embrace of reality whatsoever with this drug war.

We’ve been duped. The drug lords surely must run both sides of this equation. Do your part to end this madness.

Visit our website, EndProhibition.Org.

Prohibido istac evilesco.

For the Drug Truth Network this is Dean Becker asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.

Transcript provided by Gee-Whiz Transcripts. Email: glenncg@zoominternet.net