05/08/11 Joy Strickland

Joy Strickland, Dir of Mothers Against Teen Violence at DPA partners Conf in Denver, Ethan Nadelmann Dir of Drug Policy Alliance + "Incarcerex"

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Sunday, May 8, 2011
Guest: 
Joy Strickland
Organization: 
Mothers Against Teen Violence
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Cultural Baggage / May 8, 2011

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Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”

“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”

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DEAN BECKER: 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.

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DEAN BECKER: Welcome to this addition of Cultural Baggage. I’m reporting, again, from Denver and the Drug Policy Alliance Partners Meeting. And speaker of which, here’s the Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, Mr. Ethan Nadelmann.

ETHAN NADELMANN: Hi Dean, it’s good to be back on your program.

DEAN BECKER: It’s always good to speak with you. It’s always good to see the progress and the intent and the enthusiasm at these kind of gatherings. And this is no exception, is it?

ETHAN NADELMANN: No, no, not at all. I mean, I’ll tell you, we’ve been having these meetings; these are organizations from around the country, both local, you know, local and state and national that are committed to drug policy reform and working on various dimensions of this. And (?) home grantee meetings, but as our grants program has evolved and as we are…You know Drug Policy Alliance, we’re not a foundation, we are an advocacy organization. And more and more we’re trying to build a movement that involves working with local allies, providing the funding and technical assistance and guidance and support so they can help us with our initiatives – we with them. And, to some extent, who’s initiative is who’s just becomes a matter of us all being in it together.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, the thing I like most about this was this was a two-way street. This was not you guys dictating how the future’s gonna be, you’re looking for that input, you’re looking for that coordination.

ETHAN NADELMANN: I think that’s exactly right, Dean. As I said at the outset, you know the drug policy reform movement consists of people who are coming at this from the issues of personal freedom, fiscal responsibility, from issues of racial justice, public health, HIV prevention, sentencing reform. We really come from different worlds and we’re committed to helping anybody who is, who’s trying to advance these objectives; HIV prevention, sentencing reform, racial justice, personal freedom – what have you.

But, when it comes to sharing our limited resources, we need to focus on the people and the organizations working in each of these areas who are deeply and personally committed to a broader drug policy reform agenda. If you’re working on overdose prevention, a lot of people working on that, but who are the activists out there, the advocates, who are committed to the broader agenda. If you’re coming at this from a racial justice slant, who are the ones coming at it from a broader drug policy lens as well. If you are coming at this from a Libertarian perspective, who are the ones committed to the drug issue and drug reform.

So that’s what it really means to build a movement. It’s working with people in diverse areas across the political spectrum but identifying those individuals and those organizations that really “connect the dots” and understand how pernicious the drug war is - not just in their one area that they come from but more broadly.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, those with the mud on their boots, so to speak, working in the trenches getting the job done and who would have, perhaps, better input, better feedback, better means to coordinate, right?

ETHAN NADELMANN: Well, but also it’s about conscientiousness. Because you have a lot of people doing great work on sentencing reform or on the public health side but unless they, themselves, see the connections, you know. Somebody that’s coming at this from HIV prevention thing, needle exchange and all that, you know the greatest value is someone who’s working on that and also understands about the other public health dimensions AND the civil liberties and human rights dimensions AND the racial justice dimension and the personal sovereignty. You know, that’s what’s going to build us as a movement. The more people and organizations that are committed to the broader set of drug policy reform principles, right, and objectives – that’s what’s going to empower us.

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DEAN BECKER: The Drug Policy Alliance helps reform organizations all over America, sometimes around the world and even in such dire strait states as Texas.

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JOY STRICKLAND: My name is Joy Strickland and I am the founding CEO of Mothers Against Teen Violence in Dallas where we are rethinking drug policy in Texas. Our mission is public information, education and advocacy for drug policy reform.

Now the organization has been in existence now for 17 years. And we began as a community-based social services organization to fight teen violence. We had, um, we ran school-based violence prevention, we had parenting classes, we had mentoring programs. But in 2008 we rebranded the organization as a result of my interaction with Judge James P Gray, who wrote…the author (and he’s of Orange County) …who wrote “How are Drug Laws Have Failed Us and What You Can Do About It.” We rebranded our organization to focus on drug policy reform.

DEAN BECKER: I think it’s becoming more obvious to many people the policy of drug prohibition has contributed to failures and horrors that were never intended when the policy was put in place … your response?

JOY STRICKLAND: Well, I’m not sure about the intentions. I mean if you read, if you listen to or read some of Nixon’s quotes about the problem being the African Americans and what we need to do about that without it being obvious about what we’re doing …that’s a paraphrase.

DEAN BECKER: But very close, very close.

JOY STRICKLAND: Yeah, so I’m not sure about the intent of the drug war but I, without dealing with intent, I think we just need to look at the actual impact. You know, what is the reality here today. And, you know, we are 25% of the world’s prison population and African Americans are being incarcerated a rate 7 times the rate that black men were incarcerated in South Africa under Apartheid . And that, to me, is a jaw-dropping statistic.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Joy we’re here at the Drug Policy Partners Conference, if you will, in Denver and there are people creating and crafting new ways of reaching out and coalescing and hopefully bringing about change. But, we live in Texas..

JOY STRICKLAND: Right.

DEAN BECKER: And try as we might, these politicians are very adverse to change or at least to changing their ways, are they not?!

JOY STRICKLAND: Well, you know, politicians, as you may know, are not, um, they’re not activists. OK, they are not going to lead change . What they’re going to do is wait until there is a critical mass for change, groundswell for change but they’re not going to jump out in front of it. So that is, as I see it, the job of the activist. To inform the public, to get the public motivated for change, to help them to see the impact. That’s one of the things we are doing with our drug policy forums is we’re helping community people see how the drug war impacts those issues that they care about.

Most people care about education but they’re not aware of how drug policy impacts education. Most people care about , um, even gang violence, but amazingly do not make the connection between gang violence and drug prohibition and how that creates and opportunity for gang violence. And I could go on and on and on down the list so that’s what we have to do. We have to help people, as activist, we’ve got to craft this message in a way so people can hear it. And because it’s such a complex issue and touches in so many areas, it touches so many sectors, and, um…it….you know people…you can just see their eyes kind of glaze over if you start trying to explain to them what this is about.

And so our challenge, I think, is to craft a message in a way that is simple and understandable and will resonate with the community.

DEAN BECKER: You know I think about it as…over the years, you know, the people’s stance has softened. I have observed that. I know it’s happening. And, as you say though, to make them walk that last mile or to make that last step towards recognizing the truth of what’s going on. Not the media spin or not the distraction but the fact of the matter is, as you said, the violence comes not from drugs but from prohibition and so few people recognize that that’s what fuels these cartels. It even feels the coffers of Osama…well he’s dead…

JOY STRICKLAND: He’s dead.

DEAN BECKER: But his opinions are still reaping those harvests. Continue your thought there, if you will.

JOY STRICKLAND: It’s a part of our foreign policy, the Drug War. It’s a dimension of our national policy and a dimension of our state policy. And, all of those, and I’m not an expert in any of them. You know, I’m just a mother who wants a community that is safe, where children can grow and thrive and reach their human potential. And I think when we lock people up for what they choose to put in their bodies, when we lock people up who are in the throes of addiction, I think it’s barbaric. It’s not only a human rights issue, it’s a civil rights issue.

Uh, you know, but we have to open their eyes and, you know, as an African American woman, I think that…when you talk about middle-class folk, K, the African American community is not monolithic…it’s diverse.

DEAN BECKER: Sure.

JOY STRICKLAND: So, I think the challenge, one of the challenges is that the people who are most impacted by drug war policies are the people who are least able to do something about it, right?! Because arresting people and putting them in prison, that only happens to poor people.

DEAN BECKER: Right, 99% …

JOY STRICKLAND: 99% It does not happen to affluent people. And so the people who are in the middle-class or upper-middle-class, educated, doing well – they don’t really see how this impacts them. And that’s really a huge quandary, that’s like….that keeps me up at night – as they say.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Joy, could I interrupt here for a thought. The white family would hire a good lawyer if a kid gets in a scrape. They will pay the bail bondsman. They’ll send him to treatment. They’ll do the quote “right things” that will convince the judge and/or the DA that’ll will allow them to go the alternate route. To give them probation or lessor penalty, right?

JOY STRICKLAND: (nods in agreement)

DEAN BECKER: I want to tell folks we’re here in Denver at the Drug Policy Partners Conference and I’m here with Joy Strickland of Mothers Against Teen Violence. Now, Joy, we have known about each other over the years and it’s so great to meet up with you, at last, as did so many of these folks here.

And I hear of “two steps forward, one step back” going on all across this country and politicians are still rabid about marijuana for some reason. And, uh, and yet we are in a city/state were much of that hysteria, that paranoia, has gone away. Your thoughts on that - it can be done, do you think, even in Texas?

JOY STRICKLAND: Oh, I believe it can be done in Texas. If I didn’t believe it I would pack up and go home. I’m an optimistic person, a woman of faith, I believe there’s hope, I believe in redemption and I certainly believe it can happen. But I tell you, when you come to a state like Colorado where they have more progressive, a more progressive take on their drug policy – it’s sort of like you’re in a another world. You know, it sort of like being in another part of the world. But, and it could depress you in some sense because you realize you have to go back!

(laughter)

JOY STRICKLAND: Where people are still saying, ‘They have to lock ‘em up if they’re using marijuana” or “They’re addicted to marijuana, they need to be locked up.” But it gives me hope and being around, in the room with the people we’re in the room with all day today. People who are on the ground working with hope – that’s inspiring to me.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, some of them were just walking down the hallways probably listening. You know, to me, Joy, it really comes down to I can taste it, I can feel it, I know it’s on that horizon. I know we’re approaching a day of reckoning, so to speak. When these politicians can no longer stand forth in their, you know, senator congressional chambers proclaiming their lies again and again. Uh, it’s up to good folks like us that the drug policy wants us to get this information out, to share it, to motivate, to move people to do something about it.

The quote, “morals are on our side.” If the discussion can just be had, your response?

JOY STRICKLAND: Right. I think, and that’s one of the things we do at Mothers Against Teen Violence, we have a monthly drug policy discussion group. It’s led by Dr. Martin Delaney from the University of Texas at Arlington. He’s a history professor. And it’s so important for this discussion to take place in an area, in an atmosphere were it’s not threatening, where people can ask questions, where people can disagree, you know. That is absolutely critical. So that’s one of the things that we do every month.

And, also, our drug policy forums, those community forums – another opportunity to have this conversation. And, you now, I don’t worry so much about, I believe it’s going to happen, I certainly don’t know when it’s going to happen – when Texas becomes, has this more progressive, takes a more progressive stand in terms of drug policy. But I think that if people like us work with a sense of urgency and we are faithful and keep our nose to the grind and continue to do it and continue to do it – it’s going to happen.

Now, I don’t know if it’s going to be next year or the next decade but it will happen. And when it does, we’ll look back and say, “How in the heck did it go on this long?!”

DEAN BECKER: Once again folks, you’re listening to the Cultural Baggage show on the Drug Truth Network on Pacifica radio. I’m Dean Becker. I’m here in Denver with Joy Strickland and she’s the Chief Executive Officer of Mothers Against Teen Violence.

Now, Joy, for my Century of Lies show I’m going to try to focus on interviewing a lot of the African Americans who are here in attendance and to get their thoughts, their perspectives. Last month I was invited by Texas Southern University to speak at a conference about the incarceration of the black and Latino communities and here in just another week and a half I will be speaking at another conference at Texas Southern about the drug war incarceration and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It seems to me that I helped to bring focus to this issue to agitate, maybe, I don’t know what I did, but, I’m proud to be invited. And I was wondering if you would share your thoughts about why it is that it’s taken so long. Because I know if whites were being arrested at 7 times the rate of blacks that the white community would have been up in arms a long time ago. I think the drug war would have been over. But, pardon me for saying, it feels awful, but what is taking so long.

JOY STRICKLAND: Well, you know, first of all I don’t represent the black community, don’t speak for the black community.

DEAN BECKER: OK…but I’m looking for your observation.

JOY STRICKLAND: But, speaking to that segment for which I would say I’m middle-class, educated black woman. And we are mostly churched, especially in Texas, we actually go to church every Sunday. Ok, so what do we hear from the pulpit about this issue?

We hear that it’s a sin to use drugs and we don’t hear a lot of compassion for people who use drugs. We don’t see the welcome mat put out for people who have been incarcerated or who use drugs. Now, we do have, for the most part, prison ministries will go to the prison when they’re there to, uh, when people are locked up to proselytise. But, we are doing very little to keep them out in the first place, you see. And for many middle-class African Americans they take their cue for what they need to do in terms of advocacy or volunteering or the issues they need to be concerned about from the pulpit. And you have to understand that message is not coming, by in large, from the pulpit.

Now you will hear ministers talking about, uh, preachers talking about mass incarceration, locking people up but very rarely is it put in the context of the drug war.

DEAN BECKER: which is the main…

JOY STRICKLAND: …which is the main contributor. And the big thing, I think that keeps us from moving forward is we as African Americans, for the most part, have internalized this assault by law enforcement on our communities. And we think we deserve it. OK? And this is from doing this work for as long as I’ve been doing it.

Because we don’t know that all races of people use illegal drugs at about the same rate and that this aggressive law enforcement is reserved, pretty much, for poor people. And if I were an affluent white person and I used drugs recreationally then I don’t really have to worry about anybody knocking…kicking my door in. It is just not going to happen. Let’s just say that. But then in the black community – that’s a problem.

That’s a problem because you see the use of drugs in the open, you see law enforcement responding to it aggressively and we think, you know, “Well, they get what they deserve. They got what they deserved.” So we’ve internalized it without putting it in perspective.

So when you understand that African Americans really don’t use illegal drugs any more than anybody else. As a matter of fact, as Michelle Alexander pointed out in her book, The New Jim Crow, that the segment of our population that’s most likely to use illegal drugs and sell illegal drugs are young, white males. But they have not been criminalized, right?!

OK, so we’ve…again, there are so many facets to this and I’m not trying to make excuses but I am trying to provide some insight into what is a reality in the African American community. And so when I decided that I thought we should rebrand the organization and move in a different direction, you know, most of my board resigned. Because they were very happy for me to continue engaging in programs and I thought we were doing a pretty good job in our prevention programs but basically not changing. You know, no real change was happening with those programs and I felt a sense of urgency about change. And I felt that the way to make that change was really to speak intelligently and profoundly, really, about this drug war. But that makes people uncomfortable.

DEAN BECKER: So uncomfortable they can’t continue.

JOY STRICKLAND: They can’t continue and this is an interesting experience that I had just a couple weeks ago. A radio person, personality who sees himself, I would say, as a radical person who’s always talking about conspiracies…I invited him to host our community conversation about drug policy, our drug policy forum and he said that was too radical for him.

(laughter)

So, what is radical about just….criminal justice policy?! What’s radical about…

DEAN BECKER: about equality under the law.

JOY STRICKLAND: Exactly. What’s radical about reducing the harm of drug use? What’s radical about saving people’s lives? I don’t get it. I say that facetiously.

(laughter)

DEAN BECKER: But you don’t get their lack of perception. I agree with you Joy. It’s so, uh…well it used to be more frequent that people wouldn’t go along with what I was saying but I find it very rare now to encounter those who…if I can one minute with them. The truth of the matter is that good folks like you and I we want to destroy those games, basically eliminate the reason for which they exist, at least. Maybe they go back to zip guns and stealing hub caps but it would take away their power.

And politicians will have to get it. We’re going to run out of money before we quit building prisons, I think.

JOY STRICKLAND: That’s right, that’s right,.there’s change and I think we need to come to this understanding that locking people up in a cage, which is basically what incarceration is, needs to be a last resort. It needs to be reserved for those people who are actually a danger to our society and by locking them up we need to feel safer and this is not the case with non-violent, drug users, you know?

And let me also say that the thing that keeps me inspired is the experience of having this personal encounter with prohibition violence. And my son was murdered by boys, by teenagers who had dropped out of school and were engaged in drug trafficking and drug use. And, and so…and it took me 10 years …and this is pretty profound. It took me 10 years to understand the context of that experience. To see that it was a part of the drug war.

DEAN BECKER: It wasn’t the drugs that did it…

JOY STRICKLAND: It wasn’t the drugs – it was the drug war. Because those boys had drug dealers, you know there had to be drug dealers that lead them. Because drug dealers in poor communities are the personification of success. They’ve got the cars, they’ve got the women, they’ve got the money, OK? And so these poor kids, who have so few options, are susceptible to the messaging there, the marketing campaign of the drug dealer. And so, and this is all about the drug war. And as we continue the drug war, we are continuing to make this business model not only feasible but we’re making it a very profitable thing for some people and we need to end that. And it’s not going to end until we stop the drug war.

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DEAN BECKER: Once again, that was Joy Strickland, Director of Mothers Against Teen Violence. Their website, matvinc.org.

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DEAN BECKER: This week’s Century of Lies will have many more reports from the Drug Policy Partners Convention focusing on racial injustice in the Drug War
Because of prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please be careful.

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To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

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

Drug Truth Network programs are stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.