07/16/17 Neill Franklin

Century of Lies

This week: The DPA held a news teleconference to announce the release of their new report on decriminalizing drug use and possession in the US, so we hear from Neill Franklin, Executive Director of Law Enforcement Action Partnership, and Andrea Ritchie, a member of the Movement for Black Lives Policy Table. Plus, Rep. John Conyers speaking against HR 2851, the federal Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act.

Audio file


JULY 16, 2017


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

On June 12, the House Judiciary Committee voted to approve HR 2851, the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act of 2017, known by its acronym SITSA. SITSA is a bad piece of legislation that confers enormous power on the Attorney General in regard to drug control policy, as well as making the mistake of creating new mandatory minimum sentences. HR 2851 is a bad idea, it should have died in committee, it can still be stopped, but it will take a concerted effort, so to help us better understand the issues, here's Representative John Conyers explaining his opposition to HR 2851.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN CONYERS: Members of the Committee, this measure before us is intended to address the problem of the illicit use of analog synthetic drugs. This bill involves important issues concerning public health and safety, and also fairness in our criminal justice system. I appreciate the desire of many to protect our citizens from dangerous drugs, but this measure deserves much more careful examination.

I recognize that analogs to some synthetic drugs are dangerous and are harming our citizens, especially young people. Some of these modified man made substances are even more potent, more dangerous, and oftentimes more deadly than the substances that they are designed to mimic. However, in addressing these drugs, the dangers these drugs pose, I believe the Congress must be careful in advancing any legislative response.

Unfortunately, HR2851, although I am willing to concede is well intended, it is ultimately unwise for several important reasons.

To begin with, this measure would give the Attorney General almost unfettered authority over the regulation of these substances. While much of the conversation surrounding synthetic analogs focuses on the chemistry of the substances, from the process of manufacturing them to their effect on the human body, HR2851 would eliminate vital scientific and medical evaluations normally undertaken by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration, and do away with binding recommendations provided by the Department of Health and Human Services in scheduling drugs.

There are already statutory mechanisms in place to provide for the scheduling and regulation of new drugs that may be dangerous if misused. Those mechanisms require an appropriate degree of collaboration among the Justice Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Food and Drug Administration in scheduling synthetic analogs.

This is because each of these agencies are equally important to the scheduling process, and under this bill, not only would the Attorney General hold the sole authority to schedule these substances, but he or she would also have the power to shape sentencing policy without the input of the United States Sentencing Commission that is currently studying the issue of synthetic drugs and penalties.

We must be cautious in our response to synthetic drugs and heed the lessons we learned from the driven -- fear-driven legislation enacted in response to crack.

For example, HR2851 would establish lengthy and sometimes mandatory minimum penalties for certain offenses involving these analog drugs. We all know some of the problems that we've discovered dealing with mandatory minimums.

Now, while mandatory minimum sentences give the appearance that we're taking strong action to address the problem, they are patently unjust as a matter of sentencing policy and are unnecessary to the imposition of appropriate sentences. That is the job of the Judiciary Committee.

Indeed, extremely lengthy sentences are sometimes appropriately imposed by judges, but over-penalization through mandatory minimums is counterproductive and only contributes to our crisis of over-incarceration.

Also, this bill has the potential to chill medical research into substances that may be beneficial, or into alternative treatments for drug addiction itself. We must be careful not to harm innovation and exploration into the development of new drugs that can actually help us.

And so in closing I want to note that the Committee has received a letter from more than 65, repeat 65 advocacy organizations opposing this bill, including among them the American Civil Liberties Union, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

And furthermore, we just received a letter yesterday from a number of conservative groups opposing the bill as well. The signatories included Freedom Works, the American Conservative Union Foundation, and the Taxpayer's Protection Alliance. Please, we must not ignore their concerns as we consider approaching this issue through legislation.

And so, it's regretfully that I must oppose this bill, and ask my colleagues from both sides of the aisle to examine it with extreme care. I thank the Chairman and I yield back the balance of my time.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Representative John Conyers, the Democrat from Michigan, before the House Judiciary Committee on June 12. Representative Conyers was speaking in opposition to HR 2851. The bill passed on a voice vote shortly after.

You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay.

A wide-ranging coalition of stakeholders is calling for an end to the practice of arresting people solely for drug use or possession. Earlier this week, the Drug Policy Alliance released a new report titled: It’s Time for the U.S. to Decriminalize Drug Use and Possession. The report lays out a roadmap for how U.S. jurisdictions can move toward ending the criminalization of people who use drugs. The report was launched with a news teleconference that featured spokespeople from the DPA and several other supporting organizations.

I was on the call along with Drug Truth Network executive director Dean Becker, so this week we're both bringing you highlights from that teleconference. Be sure to check out this week's edition of our sister program Cultural Baggage, the flagship show of the Drug Truth Network, which is also available at DrugTruth.net, in order to catch more from this report launch.

Today on Century of Lies, we're going to hear from Neill Franklin, Executive Director of Law Enforcement Action Partnership, an organization better known as LEAP; and from Andrea Ritchie, who's an Attorney, a Researcher-in-Residence at the Barnard Center for Research on Women, and a Member of the Movement for Black Lives Policy Table.

ANDREA RITCHIE: Good afternoon, and thanks to DPA for the opportunity to participate in this call, and this report, which is really going to serve as a valuable resource to our movement for liberation.

As many listeners may know, last year a collective of fifty black-led organizations, which make up the Movement for Black Lives, released a Vision for Black Lives, which is a comprehensive policy platform setting forth a visionary agenda for black liberation, and the platform, which is available at policy.M4BL.org, has since been endorsed by over 300 organizations representing thousands of people in 40 different states.

And the Invest/Divest plank of the Vision for Black Lives calls for investment in infrastructure, institutions, and programs that promote the education, health, and safety of black people, and divestment from institutions, policies, and practices that harm black communities.

And so under this framework, the Movement for Black Lives has called for divestment from drug law enforcement. As previous speakers have indicated, drug laws have consistently served as vehicles for criminalizing black people and communities, as tools of racial profiling and discriminatory enforcement, of violence, extortion, abuse, and mass incarceration of black people.

And they've also been consistently used to deny us access to things that our community needs to thrive and survive, including housing, employment, education, family, community, and entry, immigration status in the United States, while simultaneously failing to promote our health or safety over the needs of people who are struggling with addiction and survival.

So in light of these realities, the Movement for Black Lives calls for retroactive decriminalization of drug offenses, immediate release and retroactive record expungement for all individuals convicted of drug offenses, and reparations for the devastating impact of the war on drugs on black people, of black communities, because, as highlighted in the platform, the Movement for Black Lives really understand the war on drugs to be a war on black people and communities.

As the DPA report highlights, black people experience discriminatory impacts of drug law enforcement at every single stage of the criminal legal system, from stops to sentencing. And I wanted to just briefly add to the stats that are shared in the report and earlier in the call, to highlight the impact of drug law enforcement on black women, trans, and gender non-conforming people and black immigrants, because as pointed out, despite equal rates of drug use across race, between 1986 and 1991, the number of black women in state prisons for drug offenses nationwide increased by 800 percent, and over the past three decades there's been an over 700 percent increase in the number of women incarcerated in state and federal prisons, largely for drug offenses, making women the fastest growing prison population.

And black women continue to be incarcerated at twice the rate of white women. And this is a phenomenon that's continuing. Between 2010 and 2014, drug arrests increased by nine percent for women while they decreased by 7.5 percent for men.

Similarly, you know, the population of women in local jails has increased 14 fold since 1970, and a third of those women are incarcerated for drug offenses, and almost half of women incarcerated in local jails for drug offenses are black. And a significant percentage are mothers, which is what prompted the Movement for Black Lives to launch a national Mama's Day Bail Out action this year, securing the release of over a hundred black mothers nationwide.

And as DPA has pointed out in other forums, black women also experience discriminatory drug law enforcement when pregnant and parenting, and are up to ten times more likely to be reported to child welfare for drug use than white women, despite again equal rates of use across race.

And finally, black LGBTQ and gender non-conforming people are also targeted by the war on drugs. A national, just one national survey of trans folks found that based on widespread and deeply entrenched structural discrimination in employment, housing, healthcare, and all other aspects of life, half of black trans responded they had to sell drugs or sex at some point in their lives to survive, which places them at really high risk of drug law enforcement.

And black immigrants similarly are more likely to face deportation and exclusion based on drug law enforcement. So in light of these realities, the Movement for Black Lives wholeheartedly support calls for drug decriminalization, emphasizes that it must be retroactive, and calls for the savings from decriminalization to be invested into reparations to all people who have been adversely impacted by the drug war, and used to meet needs identified by individuals impacted by the drug war themselves, including housing, employment, health services, harm reduction services, addiction support and treatment, but that all these things need to be offered on a voluntary basis without mandating or coercing participation and services.

And let's also ensure that drug use and convictions no longer serve as a bar to entry in the US or grounds for removal. So, in light of those demands, we're really grateful to DPA for setting forth a roadmap to decriminalization, and see that as a critical step towards promoting the health, safety, well being, and liberation of black people. So we're grateful to have been able to be here today.

NEILL FRANKLIN: Thank you. Thank you for having me here, and I want to thank the DPA again for a great report, as we continue to unravel this disastrous war on drugs here in the United States and beyond.

Let me begin with saying that I'm going to do my best not to repeat what many of our prior speakers have already touched upon, for instance dealing with racial disparities and discrimination, and more, my focus will be pretty much dealing with police community relations, as the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, this is what we are about. There is a huge focus on improving police community relations in this country, and right smack in the middle of it is this, our policies regarding the war on drugs and drug prohibition.

So let me just touch on something real quick regarding the report itself, where it mentions that US law enforcement is making about 1.2 million arrests simply for drug possession in a year. That means that on any given night, there are at least 133,000 people behind bars in our US prisons and jails, and we have 63,000 of them just being held for pre-trial. Haven't been convicted yet, but they're incarcerated.

You know, it's -- I think it's time that we recognize that law enforcement should no longer, and when I say law enforcement, mainly the police, should no longer be the tip of the spear for solving what many believe to be a public health problem. That should be left up to a healthcare practitioner for those who are addicted, but that's a very small population, very small population, of those who actually use drugs.

Let me give you just one quick example of what happens when you have policies such as this in play, and then the police are responding to these policies, we are given our marching orders to do what they do in our neighborhoods and communities across the country.

Let me point you to the recent Baltimore Police Department/Department of Justice investigation and its report. What they touched on over this roughly four and a half year period were 300,000 questionable stops of mainly black and brown skinned people in Baltimore. Of the 300,000 plus stops in this particular period of time, only 3.7 percent of those stops resulted in a citation being issued or an arrest, some sort of formal enforcement action.

What they then realized, you see because they had survey data, the actual records of these stops. We're talking paper, forms that were filled out, so what they realized was that this was not an accurate picture. Most of the stops are not being properly recorded, so they did a sampling of the radio transmissions, and realized that that number is seven times greater. So now we're really talking about 2.1 million questionable stops of citizens -- of citizens in Baltimore. But the number of documented stops, the number I mentioned, 3.7 where they had some sort of form or documentation completed, remains the same. So that hard number, when you look at now 2.1 million stops, the real number of percentage of those stops is 0.5, where a ticket or an arrest was made.

The reason I mention this is because, what are these stops about? As we continue peel back that onion in Baltimore city, realized as in any other city, these stops are about looking for drugs, where strip searches are being conducted in the middle of our streets, in public view, cavity searches are being done of our black and brown citizens. There is nothing today, there's not one single issue more important to deal with, and we're talking about building relationships between police and community, there is not one more important topic than this. The end of the criminalization of those who possess drugs, and those who use drugs, and get our police out of this, what many believe to be a health issue, and then there are many who believe that it's not truly a health issue because of the small percentage of people who are actually addicted.

So, law enforcement has finally begun to see the light, but we still have a long way to go. We have programs such as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, where we're not arresting people, we're not saddling them with a criminal charge, then a conviction. We have Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative, PAARI, which started in New England, in the state of Massachusetts, which is spreading across the country. But again, we're just scratching the surface. At the end of the day, you have to do what DPA and many of these other speakers are recommending, and that is to end the criminalization of drug possession, drug use in this country, and I think we're going to do it.

Let's continue to focus state by state, get it done, and again, the Law Enforcement Action Partnership is very happy to be a part of this effort, and thanks again to the DPA for this wonderful report.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Neill Franklin, a retired Major with the Baltimore Police Department who is the Executive Director of Law Enforcement Action Partnership, and Andrea Ritchie, an attorney and researcher-in-residence at the Barnard Center for Research on Women who is a member of the Movement for Black Lives Policy Table.

I was able to get in a question during the teleconference. Now, it was a difficult question, not a softball. I believe in playing hardball even with friends and colleagues, because as a journalist it's my job, and it's my responsibility to you, dear listener. I wanted to get that out of the way before we play the segment, and I also want to add that I think both Neill and Andrea, the two who responded to my question, knocked it clean out of the park. Here's that:

The racial and class bias shows itself not just in the drug war, of course, I mean, property offenses, violent offenses. Law enforcement's really good at bringing in the usual suspects, and the district attorneys are really good at getting a coerced guilty plea, but the question really has to be, how do we get past the usual suspects and start to address and, you know, I mean, clearance rates for property crimes haven't cracked 20 percent yet, they crawled up a little bit during the Obama administration but it's still fewer than one in five. Violent offenses, less than half, and god knows how many of those people are actually guilty of the crimes that they committed [sic: that should have been "for which they were convicted," not "that they committed"].

So, how do we get past the obsession and the usual suspects, how do we get past the race and class bias, and get law enforcement, from the district attorneys on down to the beat cops to start looking for the real perpetrators of crime?

NEILL FRANKLIN: So, this is Neill. As far as, and I'll maybe -- maybe I'm just touching part of this question, but as far as looking for "the real perpetrators of crime," I think it's simple, in law enforcement, it's not as complicated as people think. It's basically about having the policies that do not criminalize consensual adult behavior. Moral policing is another term that's used.

So, when people are hurting other people, and I think most of us know what that looks like: murder, rape, robbery, domestic violence, crimes against our children, human trafficking, and on and on. I think we know what they look like. I think that's where the police should be focused. I think, as it relates to these other things, I think we should be talking about maybe administrative processes, even if that.

But, and Garry McCarthy, who was the, up in Chicago, as the head of law enforcement up there, in a conversation I had with him one day, he says this to me, he says, if someone sticks a gun in your face, and demands your money, he says, I think we all can agree that that's a crime, and something we, you know, a crime we need to do something about, maybe even involving the justice system, and the police. He said however, someone with eight packs of heroin in their hand, he says, I really don't know about that, says, I really don't think that that's a crime.

So again, it's about moving to a place of having policies that are about people hurting people, and that's where the police and our justice system comes in. And at the end of the day we should continue to move towards restorative justice models in this country, and maybe it's not going to happen today or tomorrow, but believe it or not, after 34 years in law enforcement, I do believe that there is a possibility of even abolishing prisons in this country. That's just me.

ANDREA RITCHIE: This is Andrea Ritchie. I'm so excited to hear you say that, Neill, I so appreciate your work across the board, and just want to sort of knock on some of the things you were just saying in terms of also moving it a step back to prevention, and one of the key points of the Movement for Black Lives Policy Platform, the vision for Black Lives, is really the need to invest in the things that communities need. If people commit property crimes it's because they generally have needs, or because of how we define property crimes to include basically being poor and living in public spaces, through broken windows policing.

So, that's why we're calling for divestment from harmful policies that don't promote our public safety, like drug law enforcement, and calling for investment in the things that our community needs that will then reduce people's need to engage in criminalized activities to just survive.

I also wanted to highlight another report that came out this week from the Law for Black Lives and the Black Youth Project 100, both of whom are part of the Movement for Black Lives, called Freedom to Thrive: Reimagining Safety and Security in our Communities, that really kind of break down local budgets, and budget analyses, including, I believe -- no, not Portland, sorry. But a number of cities, a dozen cities across the country, and sort of look at what we could be investing local funds in that would promote safety and prosperity in our communities, as opposed to investing ever more in policing, caging, and punishment, that is proving to not actually promote safety and prosperity in our communities.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Andrea Ritchie there, she's a member of the Movement for Black Lives Policy Table. She was preceded by Neill Franklin, the Executive Director of Law Enforcement Action Partnership. Be sure to check out this week's edition of our sister program Cultural Baggage, which is also available at DrugTruth.net, in order to catch more from this report launch. The Drug Policy Alliance's report, It's Time for the US to Decriminalize Drug use and Possession, is available at the DPA website at drugpolicy.org.

All right, and now, just enough time to remind folks about a couple of events that are coming up. In August, the 18th, 19th, and 20th of August, is Seattle Hempfest. Once again happening up in Seattle along the waterfront. Details are available at their website, Hempfest.org.

And then in October, it's the 2017 International Drug Policy Reform Conference hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance. It's October 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th, in Atlanta, Georgia. More information about that at ReformConference.org.

[speaking at Seattle Hempfest in 2013] The point is, the good news is you legalized pot. You've created a ripple effect. It's gone around the world, there's a change everywhere right now, and it's continuing. That's kind of part of the bad news, is that your job ain't over. It is way not over. You've partly legalized marijuana, congratulations! Now there are a lot of problems. The racist nature of the laws, the reasons why this thing was created in the first place, why prohibition started, awful, awful things, we've started to right a wrong. That's great. But you know what? The wrongs continue. You still have racial biases in the drug violations that you see happening around the city. There's a horrible racial bias in the way the criminal justice system is done. The police are good at catching the usual suspects.

And well, that's it for this week. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. We're a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. The executive producer of the Drug Truth Network is Dean Becker. Drug Truth Network programs are also available via podcast, the URLs to subscribe are on the network home page at DrugTruth.net.

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give its page a like and share it with friends. Remember: Knowledge is power. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty more minutes of news and information about the drug war and this century of lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay 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 Public Policy.