08/01/10 - Leonard Pitts

Joseph McNamara, former Police Chief of San Jose and K.C. + Leonard Pitts Jr. Pulitzer winning journalist from Miami Herald

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Guest: 
Leonard Pitts
Organization: 
Miami Herald
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Century of Lies / August 01, 2010

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.

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Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. We’ve got two great interviews for you today. A bit later we’ll hear from Leonard Pitts Jr., the Pulitzer winning journalist with the Miami Herald but first Joseph McNamara, has thirty-five years experience as a law enforcement officer, as Police Chief of both Kansas City and San Jose, California.

He’s written extensively about the harms of the Drug War and most recently he had a piece that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, dealing with California ‘s Proposition 19.

He has not slowed down his efforts whatsoever. He’s prepared another one that I think is due to be released soon and with that I want to welcome, Chief Joseph McNamara.

Chief Joseph McNamara: Hello sir!

Dean Becker: You have, as I said, thirty-five years as a law enforcement officer. I was wondering if you might describe for us the changes you have seen in your career. You were there when President Nixon declared “War on Drugs” and when Ron and Nancy “Just said No”. What has this done to our nation? What has prohibition done to the world?

Chief Joseph McNamara: Well, the raising the drug issue to the presidential level has really changed things dramatically. I must say that as a result of that, we have spent billions, hundreds of billions of dollars, locked up millions of Americans and yet the violence and the corruption and the level of drug use is probably far greater than when I became a New York City policeman way back in 1956.

Dean Becker: Chief McNamara, in all your years in law enforcement, how many times were your officers called to settle a public disturbance where the only drug in play was marijuana?

Chief Joseph McNamara: I don’t recall that that ever happened because the fact is that marijuana seems to make most people mellow. I have to confess that I have never smoked any cigarette or tobacco. I have certainly never taken a hit from a bong and I doubt if I ever will.

Having said that, I’m not advocating the use of marijuana or judging whether people should use it or not because I think there’s so many differences of opinion medically and socially, that people need to make up their own mind.

While I wouldn’t use it personally, I don’t think I’d want to live in a country where you become a criminal, merely because you’re behaving in a way that a police officer doesn’t think you should.

The result of criminalizing marijuana has really been a disaster for our country because we have made many millions of otherwise law biding citizens into criminals, simply because they use a certain substance which we don’t think is good for them.

The result is that we have an extremely profitable black market coming from the fact that the drug marijuana, cannabis is illegal, giving best profits to illegal gangs and cartels. It’s creating enormous violence and corruption and I think, increased marketing of Cannabis.

Dean Becker: Once again, we’re speaking to former Police Chief Joseph McNamara. Chief, I wanted to ask you, of the new complaints that we now hear about, that are in regards to Cannabis dispensaries in California, Colorado and elsewhere, we most often hear about the robberies of these dispensaries.

Would this or other scenarios be solved or exacerbated via legalization?

Chief Joseph McNamara: Well, the answer to that is that, when was the last time you saw a Budweiser dealer robbed or involved in a drive-by shooting?

Dean Becker: Yes sir.

Chief Joseph McNamara: If you legalize it, you won’t have this kind of crime. You’ll immediately, like in California, reduce crime enormously by many millions of crimes, millions every day because the conduct that’s today, criminal, will cease being criminal.

When we take away the black market it will be just like the alcohol industry. Where we may say that it’s harmful to some people. It seems like over 90% of the people really benefit or enjoy alcohol and it’s a thriving industry.

Ironically, especially in California because we are very pro-wine production in California and it heals so may jobs and so many sources of revenue and taxation for local governments and for the state itself.

Dean Becker: Well in this time of, I’ll call it “Fiscal Fiasco” all across this nation, it does make a great deal of sense doesn’t it?

Chief Joseph McNamara: Especially now that when during this present recession, law enforcement is really hurting because of cutbacks in funding. So, it’s imperative that law enforcement be part of the efforts to reduce expenditures and to use resources more wisely.

The public is not terrified over pot smokers. I can tell you as a lifetime policeman. They would love to see the police spend more time on violent crime and burglaries and other crimes that affect them and their children.

The fact is, in California we have about 60,000 serious and violent crimes that aren’t solved every year but we’re making more than 60,000 marijuana arrests, mostly for simple possession. So, I can say as a policeman who worked ten years in the highest crime areas in New York City that at that time, no self-respecting cop would make a marijuana bust.

We were trying to arrest people who were murders and burglars and abusing children and creating other terrible crimes.

Dean Becker: Yes sir. Now in line with that, as you indicated across this nation, I have heard that crime rates have actually diminished and yet thousands of rape kits sit on the shelf untested and as you indicated the solutions of murders and burglaries and child kidnappings – the solutions of those crimes has gone down.

Now I wondered if you might talk about, I hear some say that, “Well, we’ll have to get rid of a lot of cops and district attorneys, if we were to stop focusing on the Drug War” but this would just free them up to do the things that you talked about, that the law enforcement used to do, to solve these more heinous crimes. Your thoughts,sir?

Chief Joseph McNamara: Well, I think you’re right. There is no doubt that we are using tremendous resources in this war against marijuana. People don’t realize that the police officer who makes a marijuana arrest, spends a lot of time – and the law enforcement agency – a lot of time in processing and analyzing the evidence and in preparing the various reports for prosecution and court testimony.

In addition to which, there are enormous costs for public defenders, for prosecutors, for our courts and for our correction agencies. Our prison system is very troubled in California but I think it’s fair to say that the parole revocations of people on parole are incredibly high.

The majority of parole revocations are for possession or use of drugs and no other crime. So, we are reprocessing people through a revolving door for parole violations, as well as taking up court time and police time.

When you take the whole situation and we see the fact that the illegal drug market for marijuana provides most of the profits for the drug cartels in Mexico, where the violence is absolutely incredible with more than 20,000 people killed in recent years, including soldiers, police officers, judges and other government officials.

The whole government of Mexico and the whole country of Mexico is endangered and the instability of a huge country of a hundred million people just south of our border is a great danger to the security of the United States.

So, this spills over internationally and creates enormous problems for our country that come about because we refuse to get real and face the fact that perhaps we don’t personally feel that people should be using marijuana, that nevertheless, there are millions of Americans that are going to use marijuana and willing to spend billions of dollars that go to criminals to further their purchase of deadly weapons and stimulate the violence that occurs.

People have to remember that the violence is not occurring because people are using marijuana, it’s occurring because of people dealing in marijuana shoot each other and endanger innocent bystanders. Also, even the law enforcement with the primary duty of protecting human life is taking human lives in some dangerous drug raids.

When you think back to the prohibition of alcohol, Al Capone and the gangsters and bootleggers weren’t machine-gunning each other and innocent bystanders because they drank too much booze themselves. They were committing this violence and the murders because it was an illegal business with vast profits and they were in competition with other violent gangsters.

The result was a period of lawless violence and the creation of widespread disrespect for the law. One estimate is that 1/3 of the people in California tried marijuana last year and this year the impossibility of labeling 1/3 of your population as criminals should make us recognize that this is a very damaging and unrealistic approach to government.

Dean Becker: Yes sir. Now, there have been a couple of signs of progress in the last few days. The US Congress that will pass a bill which will investigate our whole criminal justice system and they just passed a bill that’s going to be signed by President Obama here in the near future, that’s going to change the disparity in the crack versus powder cocaine laws. Are you seeing signs of hope, sir?

Chief Joseph McNamara: Yes, I am and I think those legislative efforts are finally taking place because politicians are beginning to realize that the public is talking a different view and not simply buying the old, tired excuses for drug policy, that things will be even worse if we don’t have these laws punishing drug users and that drugs are evil and that they cause evil.

A decade ago, the California voters spoke out loud and clear and passed a proposition legalizing medical marijuana. What that showed is that people are beginning to think differently about drugs and recognizing that they have different impact. As we talked about earlier, alcohol is often associated with violence but marijuana is not, by users that is.

Also, marijuana seems to calm people down and makes them mellow, where alcohol for some people increases their aggression. I think any experienced police officer will tell you that they much rather have to handle a case where people were high on marijuana, as opposed to them being high on alcohol, where you may have fights and assaults and use of weapons.

Dean Becker: We’ve been speaking with Joseph McNamara of the Hoover Institute, former Police Chief of Kansas City and San Jose, California.

Chief, in closing, I wonder if you still have a chance to speak to any law enforcement officers still wearing the badge. Behind closed doors, are they starting to understand this situation better?

Chief Joseph McNamara: Yes, there is a change in opinion among police officers. In fact, it’s not just behind closed doors. We have an organization called LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. So, there are many members of the law enforcement profession who are publicly going about, making speeches and writing articles saying the Drug War has failed.

You have to understand that much more harm is coming from prohibition than coming from the drugs themselves. None of the speakers that I’m aware of is advocating that people use these drugs. They are simply saying that the solution of criminalizing drugs is worse than the problem of drugs themselves. So, I think that’s a situation you see.

On the other hand, many active duty police officers are not able to speak out on this issue because if you do so – for example, even I knew that the Drug War was not working. When I was Police Chief, it would have seen it as unethical and violating my oath of office, if I had spoken publicly because you are obliged to enforce the law and follow the policy of elected officials.

At this point in time, I think that the establishment, the political establishment and the law enforcement establishment is basically saying the same old thing. We are not in competition but we should remember that ten years ago, that law enforcement agencies today and politicians today who are speaking out against legalizing marijuana, also were adamant ten years ago in speaking against medical marijuana.

Despite that it passed and it has been good for the state of California. The dire predictions made by people who opposed it have not come true. I don’t think that there is any reason to believe that there’s a significant increases in either the use of marijuana or any kind of crime connected with the drug itself, since it passed.

So, I see the possibility of change here because the public is getting more educated and recognizing that giving millions of people a criminal record is not the way to go.

I’d like to remind people that our last three presidents, President Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama, by their own admissions, indicate that they used marijuana during their wild and reckless days of youth. If any of them had had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and been busted for marijuana, they would not have had successful lives, let alone become President of the United States.

So there’s a huge cost in turning people into criminals who are essentially good citizens and going to be leading productive lives. It’s way past time to recognize that marijuana should not be criminalized.

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(Heroic music)

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

These men and women have served in the trenches of the Drug War as prosecutors, judges, cops, guards and wardens. They have seen first hand the utter futility of our policy and now work together to end drug prohibition.

Please visit www.leap.cc

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Leonard Pitts Jr, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, writes for the Miami Herald and various newspapers across the United States, he’s author of Forward From This Moment: Becoming Dad, Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood. His latest book, before I forget, a story of desires, actions and ambitions of an Alzheimer’s victim before the disease takes his memory and then his life.

Today we are focusing on one of his more recent columns for the Miami Herald, “Drug Sentences Create Racial Caste System”. Mr. Pitts, first off, thank you for stating so clearly, what needs to be said in this regard.

Leonard Pitts Jr,: Well, thank you. It actually took me a while to come around to that opinion. As I think I said in both of the columns that I’ve written on the subject; I’m not really a big fan of drugs for myself personally.

When you look at the facts surrounding the so-called War of Drugs, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion except that it has failed.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir and of course, yours is not the first column to take the Drug War to task but what you put to paper exposes the supposed logic of continuing down this same path. I think it challenges our elected officials to a least take a look at what we’re doing.

What has been the response to this column from your readers and perhaps any politicians that might have responded?

Leonard Pitts Jr,: I haven’t heard form any politicians. From readers it’s been more or less positive, believe it or not. I’ve said I’ve written two columns on the subject and the first time I did, I kind of expected that I would be taken to task pretty strongly but I have not been.

The most critical comments I have received has been from grieving parents who lost a child to drugs or something along those lines, very emotional stuff. For the vast majority of other folks who have responded I haven’t detected a whole lot of negativity.

Dean Becker: Mr. Pitts there is some hope on the horizon, just yesterday the US House version of Senator Webb’s bill to examine our criminal justice system passed with “no objections” and it seems quite likely the Senate will soon pass their version.

What do you think this portends as far as our justice system and the current Drug War exception to the Constitution?

Leonard Pitts Jr,: Well, I think we are moving slowly but apparently steadily towards reconsidering and perhaps just decriminalizing all together the harsh penalties that we have on drug use.

I don’t want to fool myself and I don’t want to give my hopes up. I think so many people are so deeply invested emotionally and deeply invested, frankly, so financially in continuing the Drug War that I think it’s going to be very difficult to push it across the finish line.

You praised me a moment ago for writing a column about it. Whatever courage it took for me to write a column about it is nothing compared to what it will take a politician, let’s say a political candidate, who stands up and says the Drug War is a failure. That’s going to take a lot of guts and I don’t know that we have that kind of guts on the political horizon just now.

Dean Becker: This column on drug sentencing talks about it creating a racial caste system it includes, mentioning Alice Huffman, President of the California Conference of the NAACP, who endorsed California’s Proposition 19 which would legalize for adults.

You talked about the blowback she received from the International Faith Based Coalition who asked, “Why would the state’s NAACP advocate for Blacks to stay high?” Your further response, please?

Leonard Pitts Jr,: Let me back up, when I talk about a racial caste system, my eyes were really opened to this by a book that I read and wrote a column about some weeks back called “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. She argues that the sort of ridiculous drug penalties we have, plus the fact that police have chosen to focus their prosecution almost exclusively in communities of color, black and brown, even though the majority of the drug dealing and drug using and is done in white communities.

The fact that we’re doing this, plus the fact that after you get out of jail after having a joint ten years ago, you have all of this legalized discriminations that you face. You can be discriminated against in housing. You can be discriminated against in employment and in loans. She pointed out that you’ve got these discriminations to which only blacks and browns are subject, based on who the police choose to prosecute.

It’s essentially “Jim Crow” again or “Jim Crow” still, I should say. It’s essentially a new racial caste system. So, for people who are complaining about the NAACP fighting against this thing, that Blacks are going to stay high and that we are going to have this, that and the other problem, that’s not what the problem is.

Black folks use drugs at about the rate of the rest of the county and about the rate of their percentage of the population. So, there’s no great drug epidemic in the African American community. The problem is not black folks using drugs, the problem is black folks being disproportionately arrested, incarcerated and punished for drugs.

Dean Becker: We look at the history of the Drug War and some say thirty-seven million now, non-violent drug users arrested and of that huge number, the predominant number are Blacks and Hispanics, caught with not kingpin amounts but microscopic amounts sometimes, your response.

Leonard Pitts Jr,: The criminal injustice system arose after the Civil War, sort of a proxy for keeping black folks in line. Since white folks could no longer do this legally by the whip and by the chains of slavery. The justice system or the injustice system was used for that.

Right after that system you had the whole – after slavery collapsed you had the convict leasing system. Basically, the jails and the sheriffs functioned as procurers and they would arrest you on some made up charge and essentially sell you as a prisoner to some white guy who had the freedom to work you, pretty literally, to death for the balance of your term.

When that system collapses in about 1945, a couple of decades later, we have this system. We have this War on Drugs. To me, it’s not incidental and it’s not accidental that you’ve got these three major systems whose weight falls almost exclusively on people of color.

You’ve got slavery. You’ve got the convict leasing system. Now you’ve got this new “Jim Crow”. It’s a matter of using law to corral, to contain and to control a population that the rest of the population has deemed as troublesome.

Dean Becker: We’re speaking with Leonard Pitts Jr., Pulitzer Prize winning journalist with the Miami Herald. Leonard, I wanted to ask you, you had a recent column that tried to separate fact from prejudice. I believe it is prejudice, as you’ve been talking about.

It’s a belief system, really. Almost a quasi-religion that allows this to continue and that stifles discourse in this regard. Your response?

Leonard Pitts Jr,: Well, you pretty much said it right there. I think that a lot of us are so invested in believing what we want to believe. A lot of us are almost operating in alternate realities where we don’t have to be faced with or confronted with facts that contradict what we would like to believe.

We don’t have to deal with facts that we find uncomfortable for us or take us places we don’t want to go. If I only want a certain set of facts I can go to MSNBC. If I want the corresponding conservative facts, I can go to FOX. Never mind that none of those “facts” that I am getting there may, in fact, be factual.

What we’re being sold is not news and not even necessarily an opinion but a Worldview. To a degree, that Worldview has no basis in actual fact to the degree that the Worldview does not resemble what is actually happening in the World.

It’s dangerous. When we can’t even agree on what should be self evident to any reasonable person, then we don’t have any basis for the more difficult discussions. If we can’t agree that a Toyota is a Toyota or that Shirley Sherrod is not a racist, just the basic self-evident stuff, if we can’t agree on that, then how are we going to have discussions on the War on Drugs or any of this other stuff that is more nuanced and requires more perception and logic and thinking.

Dean Becker: The House passing that criminal justice bill and the supposed passage by the Senate here soon, gives some hope that that discourse can be opened up. But, then again I wonder who will be on the panel and where they will be “coming from”. Your thoughts, sir?

Leonard Pitts Jr,: I hope that the legislation passes but in the current political climate, I don’t want to count my chickens before they’re hatched and healthy. We’ll see what we see. Again, it’s going to take a lot more courage than I think currently exists in the political arena for us to move the needle where we’re talking about moving it.

Dean Becker: The Drug War is ending. The question now becomes: When. That when now depends on you. When to contact your elected officials. When to demand an end to this madness. Too many cops, too many politicians and certainly too many growers and sellers of these products want this to last forever.

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I urge you to visit our website which is: endprohibition.org. There you can join up with many of the finest drug reform organizations around the planet.

Prohibido istac evilesco!

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

The Century of Lies.

Drug Truth Network programs, archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.

Transcript provided by: Ayn Morgan of www.eigengraupress.com