09/09/20 Kevin Zeese

Kevin Zeese joins DTN host for the whole half hour to discuss drug war politics, racism, corruption and activism. This show contains a portion of a longer interview recorded 8/5/20 as part of forthcoming Claiming the Moral High Ground video special now being dedicated to Kevin, which will be released on 9/11. Sadly Kevin passed from this Earth on September 5. This is a tribute to the mentor to many, this activist extraordinaire.

Program: 
Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Date: 
Wednesday, September 9, 2020
Guest: 
Kevin Zeese
Organization: 
Popular Resistance
Download: Audio icon FDBCB090920.mp3
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DEAN BECKER: I'm thinking it was right at 20 years ago, I heard about a group that was coming to Texas, uh, journey for justice. They called themselves, uh, met up with them in Houston. They had a cage, a jail cell. They weren't pulling behind a trailer.

They had people in it. They were calling for the end of drug war, illegal marijuana. And in particular, they were protesting what was going on in Tulia, Texas, where, um, I forget 20 or 40 black folks had been arrested, set up by a re uh, cop rogue cop named Tom Coleman. And the guy had an up this effort was the, I think then the had of, uh, the drug policy foundation. He along with the, um, Jodi James, Jodi, James, and, and, uh, uh, your Cole, uh, leader, uh, Arnold, true back. We just lost Arnold, uh, not that long ago. And I guess what I'm wanting to do today is speak to mr. Kevin. Zeese how you doing Kevin?

KEVIN ZEESE: It's great to see you again. It's been too long. It has been too long. And

DEAN BECKER: Kevin, what, um, you know, this morning I had tears in my eyes thinking about the 20 years, I've put into this and from my how little progress towards legalization, we've actually made how there are still these folks in positions of power, who, who stand forth, proclaiming their morals are offended. And as it's slashed needs to last forever, but you've been at this longer than I perhaps you have a different perspective. Are we making progress? What's going on, Kevin?

KEVIN ZEESE: Well, I got involved in this when I was in law school in Washington, D C at GW in 1979 is yeah. Intern. And my first responsibility they gave me a normal was normal is the national organization for reform marijuana laws was responding to prisoners. And that really brought home to me, how serious the war on marijuana is for individuals, families, and communities, and also how racist it was because most of the people I was corresponding with were black, black people. And that just continued. And at that stage, we were talking about two or 300,000 arrests a year, got up to 600,000 more, even more arrests a year.

We're still at several hundred thousand a year, so that's all bad. But at that era, I went on to become normal as chief counsel in national director. And during that time period, we were actually getting death threats. We're talking about legal marijuana. This was the era of just say, no. Nancy Reagan had made the dress we're her first women's issue, right? I had been doing terrible stuff on that with regards to, and of course, treatment of youth and all sorts of increased in incarceration. And so it was, we were getting death threats and we only had about 15% of the public supported legal marijuana. At that time, we had more people in the United States who believe Elvis Presley was alive, that supported legal marijuana. And so now we're at a high, much higher rates. 65% of the public supports legal marijuana, 85% supports medical marijuana. We have 10 States that have legalized 30 States medical access.

So we're making progress. We're seeing a downward trend in arrest, a beginning of a downward trend in mass incarceration. So those are all positive signs, but it has taken way too long to get this far. We have not gotten far enough. And the fact that Joe Biden, who is the architect of the marijuana war from the Senate architect of mass incarcerate duration and mandatory sentencing is the, is the democratic, uh, flag carrier for the presidency is good sign. He still opposes legal marijuana, like 65% supporting, uh, it's be made legal. Uh, and yeah, but he's on the wrong side of many issues. He also opposes single payer healthcare Medicare for all 65% support that taxing the wealthy 80 90% support that green new deal. Again, 80% support for that, all these issues by it, not a minority. And so we we're, we're part of the majority and the issue is how do we bring this issue to closure?

We are really making progress. We've got public opinion on our side. We still have a good core group of organizations and activists working on this issue. That's critical. Uh, and so I, I, so I think we're making progress, but we're not over the finish line at all. And, uh, the movement needs to continue music and that, that journey for justice, by the way, just to mention something about that since you brought it up, that was a, a great event for me as well. Uh, the people in Florida really organized Jodi James and her crew, I came along as a kind of a national person, and it was their lawyer through the process. We went from town to town in Texas from prison town, prison town, towns that were based on prison populations for their income. And we had the jail cell behind the trailer. We also had medical marijuana users in the trail in, in the, in the van people using marijuana medically in 2000 in Texas, pretty amazing.

So we had many conflicts with the police during the, during that tour. And I'd get out and talk to the police, of course, keeping them out of our RV because we didn't really want them coming into the marijuana smoke. Uh, and, uh, no one was arrested. And in fact, we've discovered along the route, there was one moment where we had, I was taking a break and our crew went out to tour our town and they got pulled over and someone was, I got a call that someone was in a police car. So I went out to the event, talk to the police, said, look, we're just doing first amendment stuff. This is our right to protest or right to organize, you know, to raise these issues. And then over the microphone of the cop was, um, uh, someone says that those people with marijuana leaves on their car, if it is leave alone, let them go.

And we realized, we realized in the midst of the presidential race that George W. Bush did not want a focus on mass incarceration in Texas. And so we knew then that we were free. And then we went on to the Capitol, the Tulia issue, fantastic March on that Tulio horrible road, cop racist enforcement. We protest that Al Gore's campaign office as well as George bushes, because both parties are terrible on this, but it was a great event. I think, a really important that I'm so glad that you brought it up well, and I want to say this one is to point out that the RV that you were traveling in had banners on the side, I don't know, 10 by 12 feet with a calling for a legal marijuana. And I don't know if people were smoking on it, but it was a big sign saying, that's right. We are in your face. And I'll tell you one of the things I loved about that tour. When we got to a prison, we would get on the top of the RV with a big microphone and talk to the prisoners, let them know people on the outside, cared about them. And we got emails from their families telling us they heard us inside and how it impacted them. Oh, just amazing, amazing event.

DEAN BECKER: Well, it wasn't too long after the journey came through Texas that I started working for Pacific radio at KPMT and started working for the prison show, which every Friday night, um, blasted out to our hundred thousand Watts to all the prisoners, uh, and you know, within about a hundred miles of Houston and talk to them, let allowed their family members to speak to them. Uh, it became, and I got to share this with you that March in Austin, I was, there was one big sign. I remember me and this little black kid, about 10 years old, he had one side and I had the other, and as we're marching towards the Capitol, I looked at his face and I saw the hope, the optimism, the potential, and that, that started a fire within me. There was already a spark, but that started at blazing and it, God damn it. I had to do something and

KEVIN ZEESE: Yeah, you've done great work. You've done great work.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you for that, Kevin. But it was your example, the example of those journey for justice folks, it was Arnold Trebach and his commitment and courage. And we moved beyond using the L word. We moved to using the full word legalization. We dared to speak it publicly and proudly.

KEVIN ZEESE: And that that's a, I don't know, that was one of the, and that was one of the major goals of drug policy foundation when Arnold and I started it and started to plan about what we wanted to accomplish. One of the main main goals was to make opposition to the drug war respectable. It was a third rail issue. In other words, any politician who touched it would die. And we try to turn that around and into a respectable issue. Arnold brought to it, you know, he was about 55, 60 years old, elder statesman, elder academic had a history of working on civil rights issues. And he brought with it a lot of, uh, you know, age and experience. I brought with it a public interest lawyer. And so we combined to form drug policy foundation. We became the largest drug policy reform group in the history of the country. It merged with the Lindesmith center. Now it's drug policy Alliance.

And, uh, it just was very quickly. We started to get people to join who were, uh, the usual suspects, people who were impacted by the drug war, people who oppose marijuana being illegal, but also unusual suspects members of Congress, former police chiefs, or current police chiefs, even mayors, uh, surgeon general, uh, you know, we started former secretary of state, George Schultz. A lot of people who would not be expected to be part of the opposition to the drug war started come forward. We've tried to create a space where those people could come together to show that the opposition of the drug war was respectable. It actually made sense.

And that was a priority issue to end this violation of the people was basic rights to control their own body and end this mass incarceration that was often racist.

DEAN BECKER: And as sadly has been shown, the racist aspects are still there. They're still flaunted if you will. And in many ways, by the actions of law enforcement, against people of color, that, um, is becoming obvious to more and more Americans it's being recognized for what it is. And, and I guess what I'm trying to say here is that hopefully that's giving some more support, more backbone, uh, to others to to, to speak boldly of the need for change. And, and I look at it this way, Kevin, I think most people, most politicians, most of the media all get that this is a, a sham scam that it is not working, that it needs to be redirected, but so few are willing to step forward and proclaim that need as yet the, your, your thought there, Kevin,

KEVIN ZEESE: More people will step forward than they used to. And I suspect you're right, that they know it's a sham. They know it's a disaster. And even Joe Biden knows it. That's, what's so disgusting about his behavior. He knows it's wrong. He's he has his architecture of the drug war and mass incarceration has destroyed communities, destroyed families and impacted hundreds of thousands of people. Uh, so he has a lot to a lot of drug war, uh, uh, a lot of drug war crimes to make up for it. Um, but I think that you mentioned the people seeing the police violence, especially racist police violence, more clearly than ever they've ever seen it before. That's so true. And I think it's very important for our movement, the drug policy reform movement, to make it clear to people in this national uprising against police violence, that the drug war is central to it.

That as long as marijuana is illegal, it gives police an excuse to harass people, especially people of color and people who are politically more radical. In fact, president Nixon,he declared the war on drugs and the war on marijuana. And of course he did that after the Shafer commission, the national commission on marijuana and drug abuse recommended decriminalization. Nixon came out from the marijuana war. And, but in the oval office tapes, he and Haldeman and Ehrlichman his top teeth top, top deputies are talking about how the drug marijuana laws can be used to go after black people go after the long hairs to go after political opponents, they couldn't directly go after blacks and political opponents, but they use the marijuana issue to do so, and is still true today. And that's still, and people who are in this uprising against police violence need to understand that ending the drug war, particularly the marijuana war, the most widely used drug is essential to ending police violence.

DEAN BECKER Well, as, as I understand it, marijuana is still, uh, the arrest rates for marijuana are still more than for all violent crimes combined across these United States to this day that it's just such a squandering of police effort, your response, Kevin,

KEVIN ZEESE: The problem, you know, one of the problems with the police issue right now, and that's why you hear this phrase defund the police. Uh, the problem with a lot of policing in urban areas is that police waste their time on issues like marijuana or traffic violations or gambling in the street, or, you know, not these issues that shouldn't even be crimes that police are involved in. But we look at homicides, robberies, burglaries rape the record of solving these crimes is infant TESL. It's less than 50%. Most people who are involved in murder, rape and robbery don't get arrested. And that's because police are wasting their time on issues like marijuana that allow them to intervene often in racist ways or often in low class class ways against people who are poor, uh, white or black. Uh, and we need to, we need to get reduced the police role in these other issues. So they can focus on the real issues that deal with security. We need to be building up alternatives to policing in urban areas. As far as conflict resolution goes, uh, as far as dealing with traffic issues, decriminalizing drugs, uh, we need to get police out of that stuff where they intervene in people's lives often in a violent way and get police focused on solving real crimes. Then we can have real security.

DEAN BECKER: Now, uh, one of the things I talk about corruption, corruption runs the drug war. I have Anthony Placido who was a second in command at the ONDCP. I have a quote from him saying it's possible that out of the hundreds of billions of dollars that are collected each year and these drug sales had approximately 50% of it is used to corrupt to bribe border guards, judges, prosecutors, cops, and others. And I guess what I'm leading to here is that the corruption is widespread. We had a situation recently in Houston, they call it the Harding street bust. I don't know if you heard about it, where the cops busted in the door shot, the two homeowners and their dog wounded each other by shooting through the walls. And then it was determined. There was no drug buy. There was no valid search warrant. There was no reason for this to exist.

And the DA's now, uh, finding and all examples of taking or drug by money, et cetera, et cetera, the corrupting, the, you know, the, the situation even further. And I guess what I'm saying is this is one example. We have the situation in Tulia. We have the, where the crime labs are found to be deficient leaking roofs and, and, and, and ineffective, uh, technicians, et cetera, et cetera. And I guess what I'm leading to here, Kevin, is that that goes on every day around America. And there are some scandal involving the drug war where they're just doing it wrong.

KEVIN ZEESE: And it's so true. It's so true. And the corrupting influence of the drug war on law enforcement, uh, and, uh, on politicians, I mean, Joe Biden is corrupt in that he's knows as a failure, knows is damaging is still supported that's corruption, but the kind of corruption you're talking about at the police level is why the organization law enforcement against prohibition was formed. You know, these were former drug enforcement officials who had seen what the drug war was doing to police. It was corrupting them on an individual basis too often because you go into a drug bust, there's a pile of money. So you take $10,000. Who's going to know, or you take a bribe to avoid it to not, to not enforce the drug laws against someone who is making money from the, from the industry. Uh, so they, they saw that and they also saw how police decisions were being corrupted, because it's a lot easier to arrest a marijuana offender then is to investigate a homicide. Uh, it's a lot easier and more and more profitable for law enforcement to focus on seizing someone's vehicle, seizing their bank accounts in forfeiture laws that allow them to seize before someone's even convicted. That's a profit making endeavor for police. It corrupts the entire police department and the direction that police would go, rather than focusing on rape robbery and murder, they're focusing on seizing people's property because it makes money for them. So, yes, the corrupting influence is endemic, not just the individual, but to the entire police department and to our politicians.

DEAN BECKER: And to me, it comes from back to this forgiveness that is, you know, given to these corrupt cops and the belief that, okay, we're going to get it right now at this time. You know, the corruption won't, won't grow again. It won't break it rear its ugly head, but it, it just it's, it's cyclical. It just happens. Uh, every 10 or 15 years, a new discovery is found and, and, um, more investigation is necessary. I don't know what point I'm making there other than it's, it's baffling truly that, uh, this belief system continues. I call it a quasi religion that, that people believe drug war to be so necessary because of the possible proclivities of their own children may lead them down that path to hell your response there, Kevin.

KEVIN ZEESE: Well, you know, and it's, also drug law enforcement is unlike many areas of police enforcement in that often police will go undercover and start to deal with people in ways that make them more criminal. In other words, an entrapment kind of situation. Yeah. And so that intervention of police into people's lives is very abusive and really in total contradiction, uh, to the U S constitution is protection against illegal search and seizure. Uh self-incrimination and our right to privacy, uh, you know, police will come into people's homes and inject themselves into people's affairs, uh, in ways that are just inappropriate and that kind of attitude that police can do that leads to, again, misdirection of police enforcement. Now in my city, Baltimore, uh, we have a big problem with police in that, uh, police will arrest folks in black communities. Well, this is terrible. When Martin O'Malley was mayor in running for governor of our state, he had a program of mass arrest in order to make himself look tough on crime.

When he was running for governor, what that meant was black youth on a street corner would get arrested for no reason, maybe brought to jail. They spend the night in jail. The next morning they were given a piece of paper to sign and said, sign this. And they were told, sign this, or you'll have a criminal record. And lawsuits were filed. There were actually hundreds of thousands of young black kids arrested under those kinds of conditions. And that's why we had the Freddie gray situation. You may know Freddie gray who was shot and chased and back broken led to mass protest and uprising and Baltimore, that kind of police behavior injecting themselves into people's lives. Often on false accounts is not healthy for a democracy in any democracy that I can't control. Its police is a failed democracy. And so that's why, you know, I currently work at a group called popular resistance, popular resistance.org. It deals with the drug issue, criminal justice, but a whole range of economic, racial, environmental issues, as well as foreign policy and our popular resistance.org. Um, we, we, we advocate for community control of police. What that means is democratic community control. Please people elect a council that determines how police operate in their communities. They can hire and fire police please contracts. They can tell it urge judges to start in a grand jury investigation of police abuse. And this is what we have to see and ending the drug war is part of this transition. It's a transition from communities controlling how they are police, not police abusing communities as often happens in black communities. These days, people who live in our black communities in Baltimore, if you like, they're under occupation and the drug war. Part of that drug was a tool of that. We've got to take that tool away. We've got to empower communities through community control of police, democratic community control police. Chicago's the furthest ahead on this issue, by the way, more than half their city council supports it. Uh, but it is the concept, uh, that's part of transitioning police to serving the people. And that's central to that is any of the drug war.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Kevin, you mentioned Baltimore. Uh, one of my other guests on the program is, uh, Neil Franklin. And, and, and he talks about, um, I forget the exact term, but jump out boys or whatever that there is now serious, horrible investigations going on there where cops would kick in the door, take the drugs, take the guns, uh, and the money, and maybe let the people go, et cetera, et cetera. And it's just another example we had to, we had the, the, the heart extreme bus. We had talking about all the ongoing scandals involving drug war investigation, and, and Baltimore has a very heinous one as well. Do they? Not,

KEVIN ZEESE: Baltimore has a whole series of corruption investigations of our police and those jump out squads. They also exist in D C and other cities. Police are in unmarked cards, jump out, grab somebody, put them into the car and take them to the station. We saw that get a lot of attention in Portland recently when Trump sent the customs, um, paramilitary units into Portland, and they were doing the same kind of thing outside of protecting the courthouses in the city of Portland and people were outraged by it. But it's been going on in urban areas for years often as part of the drug war, uh, same with stop and frisk, which in New York was targeted in black and Latin, Latin, Latin X communities, uh, where, uh, police would stop and frisk for no reason and often what they find to be a marijuana cigarette. Uh, and that would become the excuse for arresting somebody when someone's arrested. Even if they're put on probation, they're on probation and when they're on probation, any other infraction leads to them going to jail. And so it's a kind of a upward, rising, uh, cycle that increase the risks of people in communities that are overpoliced. And that over-policing of course, really came from the 1994 crime control act that Joe Biden pushed through the Senate, uh, which added a hundred thousand police, uh, to the streets and a time when militarized police, military equipment was being shared with police.

So the problem with you see a militarized police and local level stems from this drug war, that was the root of it. The 94 crime act really was because of the drug war was mainly about the drug war, uh, and put in all sorts of extreme, mandatory sentences, especially man racist, mandatory sentences. When I came to crack and powder cocaine, crack being the more common drug of poor communities, because you can buy a small quantity, even though it's more expensive than powder was you could buy a small quantity, uh, at a cheap price, seemingly cheap price. And so it was very popular in poor and black communities. And that disparity and says being crack and powder tend to one ratio. But I do a lot of African American people going to jail for a long time who are still in jail as a result of that crime.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. 10, 20, 30 years for these minor amounts that don't amount to a Hill of beans in the overall scheme of things..