02/05/08 - Edwin C Sanders

"Black America: The Debate Within" , (Pt 2) a panel discussion from New Orleans drug conference featuring Rev. Edwin Sanders, Naomi Long, Prof. James Peterson and Prof. Glenn Loury + Doug McVay with "Drug War Facts"

Century of Lies
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Edwin C Sanders
Drug Policy Alliance
Download: Audio icon COL_020508.mp3


Century of Lies, Feb 5, 2008

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: Hello my friends. Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. As promised a couple of weeks back we’re going to bring you Part II of the plenary session from the Drug Policy Alliance conference in New Orleans, two months ago now, and it’s titled “Black America: The Debate Within.” Some of the people you’ll be hearing from are the the moderator, the Reverend Edwin Sanders, Senior Servant of the Metropolitan Inter-Denominational Church and Coordinator for Religious Leaders for a More Just and Compassionate Drug Policy. He’s based in New York. You’ll also hear from Naomi Long, Professor Glenn Loury, and Professor James Peterson.


Professor Loury: I was listening to what was said earlier and thinking, well, that means civil disobedience doesn’t it? That means creative non-violence and things like this. This means laying your body down in front of something. This means when the raid goes off and people are being dragged away you get in the way so that you get dragged away too. This means putting your body on the line and stuff like that. I’m not recommending it, I’m just saying, if you were to take it seriously, seems like it might mean something like that.

Dean Becker: The voice of professor Glenn Loury.

Professor Loury: And it raises, in my mind, I mean, look it, this is massive mobilization of State power. We’re talking about the police, we’re talking about SWAT teams, we’re talking about breaking peoples’ doors down, where the Supreme Court gets to decide how long after the knock do the cops have to wait before they can take the thing and ram somebody’s door down.

We’re talking about tens of thousands of people being arrested in the streets of New York City for smoking marijuana in public view. We’re talking about a massive mobilization of State power: coercion, force applied to our own citizens. Is the government that does that legitimate? OK, I understand I’m preaching to the choir but suppose the answer to that question is no.

Suppose the answer to that question is no. That means your government’s not legitimate. This is us! This is we the people of the United States acting through our institutions. Are our collective public acts, in terms of mobilization of force and coercion, applied in a discriminatory way to our own citizens illegitimate and we’re just going to stand by? Right?

In other words, it’s not just about whether or not I get to smoke a joint and get high without somebody hassling me. It’s about that but it’s not only about that. It’s not only about whether or not I’ve got control over my body, it’s about whether or not people who speak in my name and who use force against other people are using it legitimately and if I am convinced that the answer to that question is ‘no’ the stakes now are really, really high.

The ‘stakes’ is about the quality of our own public life. It’s about what kind of people are we...it’s about what kind of country is this?


Dean Becker: Next, the Reverend Edwin C. Sanders III.

Reverend Sanders: I guess one thing I want to make sure we stay focused on, though, is not just the ‘them’ but the ‘us.’ The ‘them’ end up being a lot easier to critique. The ‘us’ we find ourselves, I think, a lot more hard pressed to do. So let me try to say something about the relationship with ‘us.’

I would hope that one of the things that comes out of this conference in terms of the ‘us’, is that what does it mean? Maybe some new relationships are being established here, and there had to be some relationships established in order for many of the people of color here in this room to be here. There was a full-court press put on especially in local southern States, in Mississippi and in Louisiana to make sure that you were here.

But I want to just talk about the...what do those relationships look like beyond today? What does it look like in terms of shared power and authority and resource within those communities that are being disproportionately impacted, what does it look like to build relationships?

Because building relationships that allow you to do this kind of work are not the relationships that come on an overnight basis.

This can’t be a ‘wham-bam-thank you’, you know, it’s got to be somehow a commitment to relationships that will allow us to be able to be the creative thinkers who will bring forth the new ideas, not just saying ‘you’re welcome to come in, buy in, be a part of what we have already put in place, established’ but rather that somehow the presence of new faces represents the opportunity to have new perspectives that will give birth to new strategies and new ways of dealing with this.

Relationship for the sake of relationship, yeah, you know I know somebody black who I call my friend and believes in this movement the way I do, that’s one thing.

But I think the other part of it is coming to the point where the relationship transcends all that superficiality and it does bring you to the point where, yes, I’m convinced that when you really speak truth to power, it does mean that you become persons who position yourselves such that you should expect that there will be a response that will be compromising to your health and your well-being.

Because the powers-that-be are not interested in their comfort zones being challenged or transformed. So we have to be the folks who do that.


Professor Peterson: Can I add one thing? You know, what’s interesting about the last couple of comments is police brutality is a horrific and tragic problem for the black communities, especially for those folk in our inner cities.

And what’s interesting is a new perspective that might come out of some of this organization and some of this partnership building is the connection between police brutality and drug policy.

Those connections are often not made, unfortunately, so we want to redress police brutality every time someone gets beat down or murdered and we kind of, we rally around that and Al Sharpton comes out and we do this kind of song and dance, but I’m not sure of any of the more constructive opportunities come out of that such as thinking about ‘what is the relationship between police brutality and drug policy?’

They’re directly related but we don’t necessarily change our perspective to think about redressing police brutality through the drug policy movement.

Naomi Long: I just finished a profound book called “Who Moved the Cheese?”


Dean Becker: Co-moderator of the panel, Naomi Long.


Naomi Long: And it was profound for me for a lot of reasons. But one of the things it talks about is, as things change some mice and little people don’t move to find the cheese. When the cheese moves they don’t move.

And so some of what I hear a little bit of is that there are opportunities out there that we, as a movement perhaps, or as people interested in drug policy, haven’t moved to take advantage of. Why is that? Why, if there’s a natural connection? Why, if these are all our children?

Why, if we are a movement that’s based in the civil rights movement about being malcontented? Why is that not happening? What is there? What is the tension there that creates the disconnect from that happening?

Reverend Sanders: Like it or not, we end up owning and buying into a lot of the images of the problems that we deal with everyday because of drugs. You see, when people translate that into the association with violence in communities, with issues of robbery, with issues of...it’s amazing how this is projected all the time.

And like it or not, the reality is that many of us sit back because we haven’t figured out how to frame our response in ways that not end up sounding like ‘oh, I support that’ or somehow ‘it’s not something that is an issue for me the way it is with other folks.’

We got to get off of that. Because, the fact is, the ways in which the problems of the movement are projected very often have nothing to do with the reality of the ways in which the horror is really playing out in terms of the devastating impact upon our communities.

Yes, there are some instances where there are, perhaps, are robberies or something that you find yourself being able to just not identify with it at all, but the fact is, the real numbers that translate into this proliferation of folks, black folks especially, being in prison, the real numbers that translate into the horrors that we talk about are not related to those things.

It’s related to petty kinds of enforcement, law enforcement, dynamics that have nothing to do with us. And we have to be the ones to make sure that the story gets told in a way that folks who are reluctant...you carry this conversation on, I know that some degree people talked about wanting to carry the conversation on within the black community.

But very often the way in which the conversation is carried, within the community, is framed by a media that would have us to believe that the problem is the problem of these kinds of acts of violence and things that you would never end up being one to condone, as being the byproduct and at the heart of what the ‘drug problem’ looks like in this country.

It’s a lie. It’s a misrepresentation of the truth and somehow we have to be the ones that hold those persons accountable who are the carriers of the story and the messages.

Naomi Long: Professor Loury, what does it mean when, you talked earlier about Charlie Rangel, what does it mean when it’s the black legislator?

And for the reasons that you laid out, it’s understandable to me why that dynamic would occur, where it’s the black legislator, the congressional Black Caucus, the black caucus in the State, that’s supporting harsher penalties or signing on to gang legislation that says if three or more black men are in one spot it must be gang-related and obviously it’s also got some drugs.

What does it mean when we are trying to fight this battle, we have black legislators who for whatever reasons are not able to step out? And how do we change that?

Professor Loury: Well I don’t know how we change...I mean that’s a big question. But I’m thinking about Senator Jim Webb, that’s what I’m thinking about right now, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the hearings that the Joint Economic Committee held on mass incarceration in the United States, which I was privileged to be able to testify, and I’m thinking about the conversation that I had with Jim Webb’s staff after those hearings about just how hard they were going to push on the issue of mass incarceration.

And I’m thinking about how, when I testified before that committee and I said ‘the war on drugs is a disaster’ as a matter of public policy, it is not working on it’s own terms and moreover it’s unjust, how nobody on that august panel, I don’t care what color they were, was in a hurry to say ‘oh yeah, the war on drugs...you don’t think it’s working, huh?

Well let’s see, what ought we to be doing? Maybe we ought to really question this whole regime...maybe harm reduction is the right conceptual framework.’ Black, white, yellow or green, nobody wanted to deal with it because it’s the third rail. OK?

So now, I mean there’s something really important at stake here. Charlie Rangel is a legislator, he’s just another one of the 535 members of the Congress of the United States.

He happens to be black and represents a black district. The political constraints that he faces are the political constraints that everybody faces and, in addition to which, he’s carrying this burden of being black, where his credibility, his motives, his values are going to be constantly subject to question.

Jim Webb, a good man, was in no hurry to run out front and say ‘the war on drugs is a disaster.’ They are worried about their political viability. Charles Rangel is operating under the same constraints. This is, again, I’m going to repeat myself, this is all of our problems. This is not just Charles Rangel’s problems in particular.

But I want to say something else, if I may. How are you going to have a market, a black market, in an illegal, forbidden substance and not have it take place largely in those corners of the society that are most marginal and disadvantaged?

Do you remember Prohibition? Do you remember who the people were who were running those criminal conspiracies that were selling that illegal substance 70-80 years ago? They were marginal. They were immigrants, they were ethic, a sort of ethnic underclass people of that time.

How are you going to have that black commerce taking place with the huge sums that are involved and the enormous stakes involved, where no one can go to court and adjudicate any contract that they might come to agreement with?

The only way they can resolve their disputes is through violence. Once you place the trafficking outside the law you force the people engaged in the traffic to use extra-legal means to resolve their disputes. OK?

This is not about black culture. With due respect, this is not about black people. This is not about what kind of music we like. These are the natural, predictable consequences of a legal regime that is enacted by our legislators and our government.



Dean Becker: We’re going to break for just a second. You are listening to the Century of Lies program on the Drug Truth Network and Pacifica Radio. We’re tuning in to the second part of a plenary session from the Drug Policy Alliance conference in New Orleans. It was titled “Black America: The Debate Within.”


Professor Loury: ...desperate women, and a few men, who are out there who are forced to turn to this as a way of supporting themselves. And if you were to say about prostitution, ‘oh my god, what’s the culture of sexual licentiousness amongst a certain set of women?’ you’d be making a profound mistake and likewise, it seems to me, if you said that, I mean ‘where do the guns come from?’

This is not about culture, this is not about what kind of music or images that Time-Warner or somebody thinks that they can promote. There’s a massive cultural movement in this country to protect the right of everybody to carry a firearm and shoot anybody that they think is going to be a threat to them and it’s not driven by hip-hop artists.


Professor Peterson: I think we’re in complete agreement on that. What I think is important to note though, is like you talked about Bill Cosby and I’m talking about certain images on TV...it’s those images in the media that allow people to obscure the very insights that you’re laying out for us. So I’m with you...yes, hip-hop is scapegoated and hip-hop is a culture through which people can sort of explain away certain behaviors and certain issues and certain structural challenges in our community.

It makes it easier for the insights to be obscured. So I don’t think we’re in disagreement at all in that but I do want to make it clear that this is going on...that there are certain things that are produced in the media and produced through culture...we can’t dismiss Time-Warner in this discussion simply because the things that are coming out of our record labels and things that are being played on MTV and BET make it easier for folk to keep this discussion from happening.

Reverend Sanders: Yeah, well, let me be clear though. There’s a level upon which, Dr. Loury, I can agree with you. Let me also just disagree, because if you look at the other groups that for reasons of social stratification and pattern, you know, socio-economic patterns and you say that they were the ones, because of their marginalized position, were in the arena of this market that is outside of the law.

What we’ve seen though with, and use the history that was recited twice yesterday, look at the experience of Asians and the opium dens, look at the experience of folks with Prohibition, whether you want to say with Italians or the Irish who were trying (unintelligible), the fact is, though, we have not seen persons in those groups seemingly permanently stuck in these places where they are not able to transcend.

You’ve got to figure out what is the dynamic that’s a part of what goes on in this society. I’m convinced that God’s ebony children who are the ones that came here by way of the Middle Passage and then slavery are still dealing with some realities in this society that it’s very hard to transcend because of an experience that is not easily overcome by economics, education or anything else.

And to deal with racism, I’m saying you can’t just write it off and say ‘well, you know, it’s the way it was with other folks’, well, somethings would be different in our communities too if indeed that were one-hundred percent of the case, so I think you’re right on it but at the same time I’m saying that’s not it, all by itself.

And this issue of racism as it relates to African-Americans, you know, the former slaves and their children, is a dynamic that plays out in this country in a very different way.

Naomi Long: I want to move to one of our, the last portion of our outline about ‘where do we go from here?’ but I want to start, before I ask that question ‘where do we go from here?’ I’m going to go back to the original dialog that we started on which is, ‘how does all of this, all that we’ve talked about, play out in our organizations and in this movement?

How is it that organizations unintentionally or intentionally marginalize people even within their own organizations so that there are structural barriers, so that are structural barriers for people to actually get into this movement, grab hold of these messages, redefine these messages and make this work that communities can actually engage in?’

Reverend Sanders: Ron asked me something the other day, I appreciate it, Ron. Yeah, you, Ron. You stood up and said, Ron said, ‘Ed, how the hell did you end up being on the board and in all these organizations doing this stuff, right?’

And Ron, I’m going to tell you, I thought about it in relation to what you’re saying is that really, there are too many African-Americans and people of color who are right on this issue who somehow have not been brought into the equation in terms of involvement on the level where there is policy, authority, line involvement, you know folks in this movement, who very often are people of color.

I mean, where are my students in this room? One hundred and fifty of you here, you have chapters on campuses all across the country. Why is there not one on HBCU? And what does that mean? I mean, you might have made the effort.

I know that African-Americans are involved but you have to deal with that. And that’s our challenge. We have to understand why the major policy voices, that few of us end up being African-Americans.

And to some degree, when we are the voices there’s a way in which going deep on the issues very often translates into breakdowns in terms of inter-personal dynamics that allow us to be able to go forward together as comrades in this struggle. We need to deal with that, ya’ll.

You know, it’s like, you know ‘is there something that still, you can be here but don’t be uppity, don’t challenge me, don’t raise the wrong questions, don’t confront my stuff.’ Is that a part of what’s going on? We got to be honest about it because I think until we get there, right?

And the reason that I tried to frame this as a family conversation, where we really talk honestly and openly, you know black folk in this room are going to be mad at me for telling ya’ll this, but we carry on this conversation all the time when white folk are not present.

Voice from crowd: I knew it.

Reverend Sanders: You say, you knew it, huh? Right. OK. Right.


Reverend Sanders: And it’s not so damned polite, you know, and the language is not, you know because the hurtful stuff that ends up being a part of the experience spills over all the time. If we’re going to be a family we’ve got to get to where we can talk about it. You’re talking about trying to flesh out the elephant, you know that’s a part of it, that’s a part of it. And that’s a part of where we are.


Professor Loury: The problem is not new. In other words, suppose you’re trying to organize a labor union...suppose you’re trying to get a bunch of people together to deal with jobs and get the city bureaucracy to be responsive to your communities and stuff like that...I’m talking about organizing.

A good friend of mine, Ernesto Cortez, is active in the industrial, industrial areas foundation movement, you know Saul Alinsky, you know....Ernie’s working out of Texas and California, so they have a number of different issues they’re dealing with, it could be education, it could be jobs or whatever.

They’re trying to get community colleges, employers and State and local government to be responsive to the job needs of their constituents. I’ve been to a hotel room, a hotel auditorium like this, with five hundred people, white and black and Mexican-American wearing the same tee shirt saying ‘we don’t want to work for eight or ten dollars an hour. We want to work for eighteen or twenty dollars an hour and we demand that the institutions be responsive to our needs because our children are not stupid, we can learn how to run the MRI machine at the hospital, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.’

How did he get all those people in that same room together? Kitchen table by kitchen table. Church basement by church basement. They had a lot of stuff that had to be worked out. A lot of stereotypes, a lot of suspicion, a lot of conflict and what-not that had to be dealt with. It could only be dealt with through actual organization. I see no substitute for that kind of work. Again, this is not what I do. I’m not trying to tell you how to do it.

Yes, I am.


Professor Loury: I’m saying you got to get face to face with people in a small room. OK? If you want more Students for a Sensible Drug Policy chapters at black colleges, somebody’s got to go to a black college.

Somebody’s got to actually engage these kids. And vice-versa, and deal with all the stuff that’s going to be entailed in that. I mean, I know you’re up for it.

It seems to me there’s no way there but through actual face-to-face, dealing with people, working stuff out, having it all come up, kicking it around and then seeing that your common interest and your goals and objectives that you’re working for transcend these relatively small-scale differences and cultural lacunae that are a feature of our society.

Professor Peterson: I wouldn’t, you shouldn’t hold your breath for the HBCUs to have the sensible drug policy change organizations on campuses because of the very same things you talked about with Charlie Rangel and the sort of stigma of different issues that black folk have to deal with. That is a huge problem.

However, I think one of the things that we have to do is, we have to start to connect the dots with some of these issues. If you connect some of the challenges that black folk are already organizing around like the prison-industrial complex, gangs and so on and so forth, if we connect that to drug policy and you bring that into the process that Professor Loury’s talking about, about reaching out, you got to touch hands, if we’re doing that and we have the right information I don’t see any reason why we can’t bring some of these organizations and their platforms together.


Dean Becker: Well, I hoped you enjoyed Part II of the plenary session from the Drug Policy Alliance conference in New Orleans. It was titled “Black America: The Debate Within.” The voices you heard were that of Reverend Edwin C. Sanders III, Naomi Long, Professor James Peterson and Professor Glenn Loury.

I’m happy to report that last week following our show with Pat McCann, President of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, I received an invite to preach, reach and teach at a black church. We still have to work out the details but if there’s other folks out there, other churches, organizations, fraternal or otherwise, or if you just have a group of friends that would like to sit around a kitchen table and talk about what we can do, please get in touch with me. My email is dean@drugtruth.net.

I can get you friends across Texas from the Drug Policy Forum of Texas and I can get you friends from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition that will speak in any city in any state, in fact in any country, on this planet. Just get in touch with us. Their website is leap.cc. That’s for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

So far I’ve spoken at a high school, couple or three different universities and about six churches. I am the Reverend Dean Becker. I’d love to join forces with you to help bring this drug war to an end. Once again my email, dean@drugtruth.net.

Ok, we have just enough time to get some Drug War Facts from our good friend, Doug McVay.


Doug McVay: In the dictionary next to the word "disingenuous" there's a picture of this guy.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey really cares about your safety. That at least he claims is the reason he is attacking recent Congressionally authorized changes in the federal sentencing guidelines. The US Sentencing Commission's recommendations to begin redressing the crack/powder cocaine disparity were allowed to go into effect at the end of last year, and according to the Los Angeles Times prisoners will be able to start applying for the sentence reductions beginning in March.

In a speech to the US Conference of Mayors, Mukasey raised the fear that releasing these inmates would result in increases in violent crime. He was reportedly concerned that these crack prisoners would be set loose before they received education, job training, and drug treatment.

Yet here are the facts:

The guideline change ultimately makes 19,500 federal prisoners convicted for crack eligible for reductions in their sentences. About 2,500 are eligible to apply in the first year.

Now here's the context: In the current system, some 700,000 inmates -- including violent offenders -- leave state and federal prisons each year. By comparison, this guidelines change is minor. What's really offensive is Mukasey's claim about treatment. The fact is that currently, prisoners in the state and federal systems don't have access to effective treatment, job training, and the like.

The failure of the federal Second Chance Act once again in the Senate means that state and federal prisoners will continue to be released into our communities without receiving the help they need to integrate themselves into society. Post-prison and offender re-entry programs represent real homeland security. It's time we took these issues seriously.

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay, editor of Drug War Facts dot org.

Dean Becker: Imagine one sheet of paper, 8 1/2 by 11, equals one gram of pure powder cocaine. Five hundred sheets, a ream, equals five hundred grams, the amount necessary to get the five year sentence behind bars. Now take that one sheet, rip off three eighths of it, you’ve got kind of an ‘L’ shape there, that’s five eighths of a gram and that’s how much pure powder cocaine is in five grams of crack, the amount necessary for most blacks to go to prison.

There is no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, no medical data, in fact no reason for this drug war to exist We’ve been duped. The drug lords run both sides of this equation. Please do your part to help end this madness. Visit our other website endprohibition.org.

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 the Pacifica studios of KPFT Houston.

Transcript provided by Gee-Whiz Transcripts. Email: glenncg@zoominternet.net