DPA Panel: Language of Reform to Faith Leaders - Craig DeRoche of Justice Fellowship, Dr. William Martin of James Baker Religion & Public Policy, Dr. George Walters of Church and Prison Ministry & Rev Alvin Herring of Lifeline to Healing
Century of Lies
Sunday, November 10, 2013
James A. Baker Inst. for Public Policy
Mon, 11/11/2013 - 10:03
Century of Lies November 10, 2013
DEAN BECKER: 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: Thank you for joining us on this edition of Century of Lies. This week we continue our coverage the recent Drug Policy Alliance’s Biannual conference. The panel we’re hearing from is “Can You Hear Me Now? Speaking the Language of Reform to Faith Leaders”.
First person we hear is Craig DeRoche, president of Justice Fellowship out of Novi, Michigan.
CRAIG DeROCHE: My story is that of political leadership. I was Speaker of the House in Michigan. I was 34-years-old. I was the youngest Republican in the country as a state-wide leader at the time. I had another part of my life that I never talked about which was I had a full-on addiction to alcohol since I was a little kid.
I could manage things the best I could but I couldn’t do both. I’m a “real” alcoholic. When I got arrested twice in four months in 2010 God put a lot on me and he took away that compulsion I had to go to alcohol.
I want to speak briefly about this because it’s the topic that we’re talking about which is the language of faith in this drug policy debate that we’re having in Denver and in all the states in the country and that is that we don’t speak to our values well in this country because of ...where we started this debate is that human instinct that you can bring yourself up by bringing other people down.
I believe that that has led to a political model that’s been successful for generations whereas what is wrong with drug use is not what we talk about in this country anymore. As Christians...I’m going to start now giving you some of the language of a Christian is different than you hear out of a lot of organizations and individuals that are active whether it be to legalize marijuana or decriminalize things or just simple reforms of mandatory-minimums.
As a Christian would you say that drinking alcohol is a sin or when you’re addicted to it and you put it before God is the sin? Very easy for a Christian to say what my sin was was not drinking alcohol itself it was that I put it before God.
You can’t pass a law that way and that’s not what the laws in any state say that when you start drinking alcohol or how much you drink or anything else but that is the origin as a Christian. If you looked at the gospel as to what God instructs you as to what is right and what is wrong.
Things on this earth are all here to be used by his children properly but it’s very clear that he’s a jealous God the things that are put before him. We see the policies applied.
I’ll take one specific example that many in this room are probably aware of which is the “stop and frisk” program in New York. In that state in 2011 they had 47,000 people stopped and frisked because they had marijuana in their pocket. That was worst thing they were doing. They weren’t robbing somebody, stealing something and had marijuana - they just had marijuana.
At the same time Craig’s “crystal ball” would tell you that in a city of 10 million people there was probably 47,000 young women walking around with fake purses – felony theft. That’s in the Bible. That’s stealing.
As a Christian you would say it was the person with marijuana in their pocket - just walking through this – give me the scripture that would say that young, primarily minority male, was sinning against God.
He may very well have been. You don’t know the circumstance though. In many cases you would be hard pressed without knowing a lot more as to what he was actually doing in violation of his faith.
The person with the fake purse that was never stopped and frisked and arrested that I’m aware of you can quote that chapter and verse.
We can get into the debate of what is wrong with drugs and alcohol as Christians and I would hope that those of you in the room that are not Christians or Muslims or Jews would be tolerant of the concerns that the faith community has that is very alluring for somebody to put it before God just as gambling or sex or food or money and all sorts of other things in the world are and be tolerant of that debate.
As the faith community I think that’s where we need to bring it back to. We need to bring it back, as the pastors are saying, and I’m sorry for my long-windiness I am not a pastor I’m a politician which is probably worse up here...
In our work Prison Fellowship Ministry our job (and I lead this fellowship) is to bring this debate back into the churches and back into the Christian discourse because we believe that is where the solution – not in the government.
That is where Christians has empowered instead of doing the work that we should have to say, “This is what you should be doing and this is what is a sin.” We’ve instead handed that off to the government which has turned their power and misused their applications of that no level of success of anybody on the Christian level would advocate as an advancement of the values that we find in our faith.
That’s the difficulty and that’s why we have to get back to a language that is attractive to bring more pastors, more churches into this movement to be able to have this discussion and move forward toward reform.
DEAN BECKER: Next up we hear from my friend and associate at the James A. Baker, III Institute for Public Policy the Senior Fellow in Religion and in Public Policy, Dr. William Martin.
WILLIAM MARTIN: I’ll try to give a few examples. You’ve been getting manner here and this this may be more like white bread but I’ll do my best.
It’s already been noted the attitudes of the church that Peter’s talked about. Opposition to reform is often rooted in the conviction that drug use is a sin and that not to oppose it is to condone or to encourage sin.
If we can’t convince religious people to look at drug use (both benign and problematic) from different angles and to see the great harms cause by the War on Drugs then we are ceding a powerful force to the opposition.
With that in mind when I speak at a church whether it’s from the pulpit or sometimes to a class or interdenominational gathering or testifying before the Texas legislature committee or writing an article or an OPED I try to keep that audience in mind knowing that even in a secular setting – particularly in Texas and the south but elsewhere as well – a biblical reference or allusion can strike a responsive chord as George Bush understood it can have wonder working power.
Let me stipulate that I don’t do that cynically but I consciously hope that it works. I’ll give you a few examples of different aspects of what we’re talking about.
I almost always start pointing out that alcohol causes far more problems than any other drug. When I’m in a church setting I notice the wide range of views about alcohol in the Bible from stern warnings of the perils of drink to the story of Jesus at the wedding feast in Cana. We know he wasn’t making Blue Nun – that it was good wine.
Whatever you think happened to give rise to that story it’s clear that the early church saw it in a positive light and it was not something they felt they needed to explain away, “Well, surely it must have been grape juice.”
Overall the picture of alcohol in the Bible is you might be better off drinking but it’s not forbidden and sometimes it’s a really good idea. Use your head depending on your status and situation.
I urge people to remember that when you were talking about other drugs and I find that’s a good way to lead into harm reduction. I’ll give you a few examples.
Take the environment. Liberal churches tend to take the environmentalism seriously and many evangelicals belong to a movement called Creation Care. So I talk about the harms caused by crop eradication by aerial spraying and the hundreds of tons of chemicals that clandestine cocaine laboratories dump into the water ways of the Amazon and other Latin American rivers.
Regulating marijuana, cocaine and heroin would eliminate much of that or certainly would reduce those harms. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peace makers.”
More than 100,000 people have been killed in Mexico in the last 7 years as a consequence of a war between the drug cartels and between the cartels and the Mexican government.
This is often called drug violence but they’re not killing each other because they wanted to smoke or for cocaine to snort or because they are high on meth. They are fighting over the billions of dollars that they can make by selling drugs whose prices have been driven to outrageous heights by prohibition. To oppose prohibition is to reduce violence and to further the cause of peace making.
I work on needle exchange a good bit. Religious people as well as many others view needle exchange as condoning, even abetting, harmful drug use. After seeing the fiscal and public health benefits of providing clean needles to injecting drug users many of them still say it sends the wrong message.
I ask them to think about the message we currently send. “We know a way to dramatically cut your chances of contracting a deadly disease and spreading it to others including your unborn children but because we believe that what you are doing is illegal, immoral and sinful we are not going to do what we know works. As upright, moral, sincerely religious people we prefer that you and others in your social orbit die.”
Jesus had nothing to say about needles but he had a great deal to say about...We know how he treated social outcasts and sinners and he had a great deal to say about people who let prim concern with their own righteousness keep them from aiding those who were in peril.
Coming back to Matthew 25 as Brother Glaskow led us. After citing the sad data about incarceration and its effects I note that ought to particularly offend Christians. Jesus said he came to set captives free and he died in custody as did Peter, Paul and John the Baptist.
Christianity was founded by people in deep trouble with the law who knew what it was like to be in prison. Jesus said, “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you brought me drink. I was in prison and you came to visit.”
That’s what you should have done but if you’re a friend of Jesus or just think highly of him suppose you try to imagine you hear his voice saying, “I was in prison and you didn’t visit. I was in prison and you didn’t care.”
Or if we do not do all we can to change the laws that imprison people at an unconscionable rate. “I was in prison because you let it happen.”
IVA CARRUTHERS: So Dr. Walters you are in the heart of the academy in Boston and part of the barrier is the divide between the academy, the church and the community. Your organization is on the cutting edge of addressing issues of recidivism in terms of speaking the same message in different ways to different audiences.
What have you learned about that?
GEORGE WALTERS: Thank you very much. It’s quite a pleasure to be here.
I represent two organizations. One, the Center for Church in Prison and the other one is Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century.
I come to this conversation with three backgrounds - one as a student of philosophy, as a student of public policy socio-ethics and as a student of theology as well. So I want to begin by quoting Howard Thurman who said, “The underprivileged everywhere have long since abandoned any hope that this type of salvation deals with the crucial issues by which their days are turned into despair without conciliation.”
It is very important as we talk about the issue of the War on Drugs and whether from an academic perspective or whether from a very pragmatic perspective we view this whole issue of mass incarceration and the War on Drugs holistically. That is the War on Drugs is not isolated from the issues of mass incarceration – they informed one another.
Within that context we believe that mass incarceration in the U.S. has become a humanitarian crisis. Mass incarceration in the United States is a humanitarian crisis. It’s historic continuity from slavery, convict leasing system and the modern form of social control and subjugation reflected in the War on Drugs need to be addressed.
We feel that religion – whether it’s Buddhism, the Nation of Islam or Christianity or any form of religion – cannot be isolated to the process of strategic solution development. So I would just say three things. One, how do we define the situation? Two, what are the implications of the situation? Three, what are the solutions?
One, talking about defining it. We believe that the War on Drugs in the United States should be seen as a militant expression of mass incarceration. Mass incarceration and it’s poignantly reflected in the racial form - blacks, Hispanics, poor whites.
So while you have these groups astronomically, enormously you’ve got black men, black women and black youth as the highest population in the U.S. justice system. Just to give you a little bit of statistics, a background. The United States has 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. At this particular time as we talk there are 7.4, 7.5 million people caught in the criminal justice system whether on parole, probation, in jail or prison under some kind of criminal supervision.
Think about it, OK? At this particular time 2 to 5 million people are in jails and prisons whether on the federal level or on a city level across the United States. Black man alone, think about it, are close to 43, 44% of the criminal justice population of the United States. Think about it...Blacks are only 12 to 13% of the U.S. population.
So when you talk about the whole racial implication of disproportionality reflected in the U.S. criminal justice system we feel it is important for us to define it as a humanitarian crisis, as a real humanitarian crisis that distorts what we call human dignity, undermines human flourishing and systematically negates human existence.
The War on Drugs and its cumulative expression in mass incarceration with racial particularities reflects a racial koshinous in the American socio-political economic psycii that is absolutely debilitating. It is debilitating.
How do we define it? We define it by looking at the implications. One, think about the political implications. A lot of guys at the criminal justice policy have come out with some statistics. In the United States there are more than 18 million Americans with criminal records that are barred from being included in the American social, political and economic process – systematically.
Whether on parole, on probation, etc., etc. You’ve got [inaudible] that reflects itself continuously as Douglas Blackman speaks that reflects itself in the modern prison system.
When we begin to think about it think about the social implication. Think about the breakdown of the black family structure. There’s an increase now in single parenting in the American black community. There is a breakdown in black marriage. During the Civil Rights era about 46 to 48% - it’s gone down to less than 31% black marriage in the United States.
Think about the economic implication. A lot of these guys because of their [inaudible] it’s difficult for them to even get jobs. You are black. It’s difficult for them to get jobs.
So think about economic inclusion, economic mobility, social mobility – they are systematically barred from that level of inclusion.
Then think about the health implication. Jim Webb, former senator, says that the American prison system is littered with people with AIDS, tuberculosis, mental illness and most of these people are in jail for non-violent drug offenses.
So when you think about it as another group has also studied...we also need to think about again from the political perspective of a church. Religious people with a moral conscious, with an ethical conscious should begin to think about the fact that when you put people in jail as human beings they are going to have sex. We should begin to think about the issue of sex behind bars.
Is the church willing to say, “OK, can we get these people condoms?” because AIDS has now become the number one killer in the black community. Don’t yourself into saying, “Oh, they are abstinence and not having sex.”
They are having sex. Can the church say, “I will give them condoms”? Or, “I would be afraid to talk about some of these issues.”
On the solution perspective, on the solution level we have different levels – the pragmatic perspective, a critical perspective that we are going to be talking about and a prophetic perspective. It is important for us to lay it down like this.
I would just conclude this particular point by a quotation from someone whose work I have begun to take interest in. Her name is Ida B. Wells. She says this, “If this work can contribute in any way towards providing an improvement and at the same time arouse the conscience of the American people to demand for justice to every citizen and the punishment by law for the lawless I shall feel I have done my race, humanity a service.”
DEAN BECKER: Once again you are listening to the Century of Lies program on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica Radio. We’re tuning in to a recent panel at the Drug Policy Alliance’s Biannual conference in Denver.
The next speaker you hear is that of Reverend Alvin Herring, director of Lifeline to Healing, PICO National network out of Baton Rouge.
ALVIN HERRING: I’m moved by a quotation that I read and have it prominently displayed in my office by Frannie Lou Hamer – you all know Sister Frannie Lou. She said that, “This kind of work, the kind of work that we’re all engaged in, the kind of work that goes against the status quo, the kind of work that challenges the dominant narratives, the kind of work that tries so (as Doctor Sanders said) unmask the powerful elites. We have a saying in organizing that real power is hidden. That kind of work could get you killed. If they kill me I don’t mind because I’ll fall 4 foot 11 feet closer to my freedom.”
She was 4 foot 11. I think that in very real ways this is the kind of power that we need to bring into the work and the kind of power that we are contending against. This issue of healing...My own personal story...
My father was a sharecropper from Clayton, Alabama not too far from Doton. At a certain point when he was 16 or 17 he was in the middle of plowing a field...you remember back in the day they plowed them with mules. He was cultivating a field with a mule and I don’t remember if you all remember what old cultivators looked like – it was a big iron apparatus. It was hooked to the mule, had long leather straps so you had the cultivator, the mule and you had the man.
My father one hot day in Alabama having only had a 6th grade education and having toiled in those fields for most of his life ...sharecropping, as you know, is just a modern extension of slavery. He said one day he had to consider who was the mule and who was the man.
Systems of power and domination, systems that would relegate beings to second class or maybe no class status...my father could not control his drinking, could not handle his drinking. I guess the world would call him an alcoholic. That means I was born a child of an alcoholic in an alcoholic family.
The church was of little or no good to me. There was no space for an honest conversation. There was no one who paid attention to the obvious signs that my family was struggling and my father was struggling. I, as the oldest son and the poster child for my family, was struggling.
There was no one that could break kind of the conspiracy of silence around drug addiction or alcoholism or all the ways in which sometimes begin to trouble with substances so the church was literally of no use to me and no use to my family.
So you might ask how did I end up as a preacher. The church was of no use but Jesus was a healer and he brought me through. He reminded me every opportunity that I can recall that I and I would submit you though you may not necessarily be Christian or even appreciate this analysis pardon me as I, at least, explain it. The Jesus that I encountered early in my life told me a story.
He told me a story and I won’t be long. He told me a story about a pious man, a good man that was making his way from one place to another and befell a harmful incident. He was robbed and hit over the head and lay unconscious in the streets. All the good people of church and all the good people of status, all the good tie-wearing folk, all the male folk, all the good over 40 folk, all the good grey haired folk, all the good Christian folk, all the good educated folk, all the good middle class folk, all the good not using drugs or alcohol or maybe using drugs and alcohol but pretending that that’s not a part of your life – all those folks passed that dear brother by.
Someone like you and I raised to be invisible but dog gone it refuse to be stopped and helped that brother up and gave him the one thing that we have got to reteach the church to give and that is the acknowledgement of his humanity and the active participation in his liberation, healing of his body and his mind and repositioning him in society so he would no longer be invisible but be visible and count.
So for us in PICO this healing work is work that is in defiance of the dominant system. We will not - Reverend Sanders said it so eloquently this morning – we refuse to go quietly into the night. Those of us with faith and those of us that are involved in the church we refuse to be chaplains to the empire.
We talk about healing, extending love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and asking of the same. We understand that we have to clean our own porch up before you look at someone else’s porch. We understand that there is real pain involved here so we got to be real human beings. We got to treat each other with the utmost respect and the most powerful respectful way we can encounter and engage with one another is to see one another as a South African greeting that I repeat often.
Say it after me, “Sawa bona” <?>
Turn to your neighbor and say, “Sawa bona.”
Put a big smile on your face and say, “Sawa bona.”
That greeting is a greeting that extends a healing that we in the church have got to learn to do because that greeting says, “I see you.”
My last comment - there are four challenges that we are taking on that we believe have to be taken on. We are going to get the church in this game.
We believe there is a powerful dialectic going on right now between the church and its people. There are structural challenges that we’ve got to acknowledge. The church ain’t what it used to be, ain’t even where it used to be.
There are theological challenges that we have got to take on because there is strong theology that would say that we need to be not only in the game but central to the game.
There are doctornal challenges that we have got to take on because in many of our organized faiths there is doctrine that says using any drug in any way is harmful to the body – your body is a temple and you’re sinning and you’re asking for your health. There is even doctrinal challenges that say you should separate yourself from those who are in obvious sin. So we’ve got doctrinal challenges.
We’ve got political challenges. The church has got to make up its mind that it has got to get out into the streets and that there should be no public policy debated in this country where people of faith don’t have a say.
DEAN BECKER: Well, that’s about it for this week. Once again. you are listening Century of Lies on the Drug Truth Network on Pacifica Radio. We’ve been tuning in to panel held at the recent Drug Policy Alliance’s Biannual conference in Denver. The panel we’re hearing from is “Can You Hear Me Now? Speaking the Language of Reform to Faith Leaders”.
I want to recommend that you get out and do your part, you know, get “churched” up, get your spirit working. It’s really up to you. These church leaders and certain politicians and other officials are beginning to speak of this need for change but they really need your help.
There’s no legitimacy to this drug war. It is a complete fraud, a scam, flim-flam.”
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 Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.
Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org