02/26/08 - Mark Bennett

Century of Lies

LEAP speaker Dean Becker interviews Mark Bennett, incoming head of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association regarding the DA scandal, the jail scandal, the decades long and ineffective waging of the drug war. Pt 2

Audio file

Century of Lies, February 26, 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: Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. As we promised on last week’s Cultural Baggage show today we’re going to carry Part II of a discussion I had with Mark Bennett. He’s the incoming President of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association. This discussion follows on the heels of the resignation of the District Attorney of the Gulag City, Harris County, Houston, Texas, Mr. Chuck Rosenthal for his impaired judgment from using drugs.

This, the man, who sent tens of thousands of people to prison for their ‘impaired judgment’ while using drugs. It also follows on the heels of the third or fourth major failure of the Houston Crime Lab which has been shut down once again for their ‘impaired judgment.’ And I get a warm and fuzzy feeling when I hear a Houston official, head of all these lawyers sounding like he’s a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. There’s a lesson to be learned here: don’t try what Harris County has done in your town, don’t ratchet up the drug war, don’t try to become more draconian because it certainly hasn’t worked out here.

Alright, please bear in mind this program was recorded during the extended Cultural Baggage show they give me during pledge drive and I hope you’ll excuse the telephones ringing in the background. I cut out a lot of blather and begging, so be glad of that. We’re going to be back with a continuation of our interview with Mark Bennett here in just a moment but first, in fairness, let’s kick this off with a Drug Warrior’s Prayer.

Our Drug Czar, who’s not in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom’s run and Thy will is done with lies and threats and prison. Give us this day our daily scam. Forget our trespasses as we vilify our brethren. Lead us not from deception but deliver us from FOIA for thine is the kingdom and the power and the mortgage payment forever.


Amen oh boy.

I want to say something to you my friends. You, if you’re a regular listener you know the truth, you’ve heard the truth, you understand the truth and maybe what you’re lacking is the motivation to just say something; to pick up the phone, to write a letter to the editor, to visit your congressman. And I try to do the best and the most I can. I mean, we try to bring you the best most knowledgeable experienced spokesmen for not necessarily ending this drug war although I do look for those that would continue it. You heard me trying to get a conversation going with Kelly Siegler and she just wasn’t going to have it. Because there is no justification for this drug war. There’s just not. You can pretend it’s for the children, it’s going to stop international intrigue, it’s going to, it’s going to do something. But the truth is it doesn’t do any of the things it’s purported to do. And I work to bring that truth forward, that obvious glaring unvarnished truth, forward. And if you’ve been listening over the years, you have a lot of that in your head. You know the truth about this matter and you should be willing to write that letter to the editor, to call your State rep, to do something to help end this madness of drug war.

It impacts you. It’s a threat to your children, to your grandchildren. It’s a threat to every human on the planet. The Taliban enjoy some, I think, four billion dollars a year from the opium trade in Afghanistan. And why is that opium worth so much? Because we insist that it be worth so much. It is the desire of the United States government that opium should be prohibited, should be on the black market, should be expensive.

The reason being, and this has been their mantra over the years, that if could fight hard enough and they can make it expensive enough people will not be able to afford it and they’ll quit using it. Success! We’ve got to break away from that dream. I don’t recommend people do drugs. I think most of them can harm you. They are dangerous if used to excess, certainly, and they’re just not good for your health. But I don’t want anyone to be arrested for it. I want people to be educated and make wise decisions if they do decide.

We have, once again, I’m glad to have Mr. Mark Bennett, incoming head of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, in studio. You know a few years ago we wouldn’t be having this discussion. It is through your education, your desire and your actions that we have begun to make progress. It’s wide open. There is no one guarding the gate of this drug war anymore. John Walter’s might show up but if you give me three minutes he’ll run whimpering with his tail between his legs. There is no justification for this drug war.


Mark, we have had, I think, a very important discussion here. Something that needs to be shared with every citizen in this city. That we’ve been deceived over the years. That there is no golden arch, no end of the rainbow to this drug war. We’re not going to reach a point where it’s a success, are we?

Mark Bennett: There’s no victory. There’s no win, there’s no exit strategy. It’s just a, if you want to call it a war then it’s a quagmire.

Dean Becker: I’ll switch words, it’ll take me a while, but quagmire’s good. I call it abomination, trap, but it really boils down to this: the fear that you, as citizens of this fair city, carry around about drugs. I see the stories on TV, they bring some big old guy, he’s dirty, his hair is messed up, he’s handcuffed, he’s sweating, he’s bleeding and they’re hauling him out to a police car and say ‘this guy had, you know, drugs’ and I can almost go along with it. That guy looks like he deserves it. But the truth is he didn’t mess up his hair and hurt himself.

Mark Bennett: He wasn’t like that before the cops turned out.

Dean Becker: No, he didn’t rip his clothes and I guess the point is, it’s always designed...the media does it all the time, they just started a new campaign, they’re saying if you use marijuana it’s going to give you tooth decay.


Yeah, it’s been hitting a lot of papers across the country that if you use marijuana you’re going to get tooth decay.

Mark Bennett: I’m scratching my head here.

Dean Becker: Yeah. Well, I said yesterday, it’s like they ran out of bullets for this caliber of gun so they’re going to switch to another caliber where they can ‘well, it’s bad for your teeth. We can’t have this legal,” but maybe they out to outlaw candy? I don’t know. They’re always looking for a reason and the reason is to scare you. It’s to keep you going ‘well yeah, yeah. We gotta protect Little Johnny. I don’t want my kids doing drugs, I don’t want my kids losing their teeth.’

Mark Bennett: Why is it in the media’s interest to scare people?

Dean Becker: Part of it is, I don’t think it’s necessarily collusion, but then again it is the drug companies need to have ads, the alcohol/tobacco companies need to put their ads in...

Mark Bennett: That’s what sells the TV news. People, I think, want to be scared.

Dean Becker: It’s time to stop arresting our young people and destroying their lives, their future, their potential for education, jobs, housing, credit, you name it. It all can be destroyed with one single arrest for relatively minor amounts of drugs.

Mark Bennett: That’s true. And a lot of people don’t consider that when they make the decision on what to do when they’re charged with a misdemeanor drug case or a felony drug case. They don’t consider that it remains on their record forever unless they beat the case. They don’t consider that it remains on their public record forever even if they take deferred adjudication/probation which is presented by some lawyers as a silver bullet. It’s not a silver bullet. It remains on their public record until it’s sealed but it remains on their governmental record forever.

Dean Becker: I have a friend I won’t name but he had a pot bust I think for an ounce or a little bit less probably in the late 70s, never really had a problem because of that, maybe he made it through his probation or whatever, but in the early part of the the 21st century he found that he could no longer rent an apartment because technology had caught up and started encapsulating all this information and making it available to rental agencies and others that make those decisions about who to rent to, and because of that bust some 25-30 years ago for a bag of pot he can no longer rent an apartment in the city of Houston.

Mark Bennett: A lot of people have been caught that way.

Dean Becker: You know, Mark, there’s so discussion within drug reform talking about the economic implications of this drug war. The fact is that we have some 2.2-2.3 million U.S. citizens behind bars, a large percentage, over a million of them, are non-violent criminals caught up in this drug war and that if our economy is suffering, if it needs a boost, we need to think about the fact that these are, that million non-violent offenders could be consumers, could be working, could be providing, could be participating in this economy and yet many of them now work for six cents an hour making money for the prison guards’ unions. Your thoughts on that?

Mark Bennett: It’s expensive to incarcerate people of course. And we shouldn’t be incarcerating people who don’t need to be taken out of society. Drug users, drug possessors, people selling small quantities of drugs-they don’t need to be taken out of society.

People selling large quantities of drugs wouldn’t need to be taken out of society if it weren’t for this war on poor people, this war on brown people, this war on people who aren’t like the ruling people. So I’m with you absolutely. If we could somehow remove these people from prison and put them into the economy and get them jobs...because that’s another part of the problem is people are so scared of crime and of drugs that they’re scared to hire the people who...

Dean Becker: He’s a felon. He’s a con.

Mark Bennett:...exactly. Or they’re scared to rent apartments to them. Even the guy who just had the ounce of marijuana thirty years ago. He probably had preferred adjudication/probation. He’s having troubles getting an apartment because apartment landlords and employers, they look at that the same as a conviction, and they’re gun shy. They’re scared about hiring somebody who has been in trouble with the law.

It’s a drain on our economy in lots of different ways. Now, a fair disclaimer here: I’m one of the guys who benefits from this drain on our economy because that money is going somewhere. It’s going to pay lots of cops, it’s going to pay lots of judges, it’s going to pay lots of prison guards, it’s going to pay lots of probation officers, it’s going to build prisons, it’s going to build courthouses and it’s going to pay lots of defense lawyers and lots of prosecutors.

So I happen to be in one of those groups who has benefited greatly financially from this abomination. But that doesn’t make it any more wrong and I think you’ll find that some of the people speaking out loudest against the abomination are also some of the people who, individually, have the most to gain from it.

Dean Becker: But I am greatly pleased that you are here as...I think the first thing you said to me was ‘I got to make payments on my new Mercedes...’

Mark Bennett: It’s not new but, yeah, I’ve still got a year of payments to make.

Dean Becker: ...but this honesty that you are willing to share can help bring the change that we so desperately need. That, you know...I had a great-I talk about the fact that anybody in a position of authority who having spent ten minutes examining this policy of drug war who doesn’t speak out, who doesn’t dare to speak that truth, is complicit and is in fact a drug warrior. And I’m proud to say, or glad to say, you are not, Sir. And I’ve had my problems with defense attorneys over the years but my mind is definitely changing.

Mark Bennett: Well, thank you. I think you’ll find a lot of defense lawyers who are willing to stand up and say ‘No, this is a mess, this is disaster. We have to stop this.’ It would practically put me out of business. That would be OK with me. I would be alright with that if we could solve this whole problem by waving a magic wand and going back to 1973 and disbanding the DEA and saying OK, all these drugs are going to be legal and we’re going to regulate them and we’re going to tax them and we’re going to take care of the people who have problems...I’d be perfectly happy working on motorcycles for a living.

Dean Becker: Ha ha! I might have to go back to accounting and audit work myself. But it is something that needs our focus, that needs to be dealt with. I mean, it’s there. As I said, the door’s wide open. There’s no one guarding the gate. It is time for you out there, the dear friends of Drug Truth Network, to do your part. To call your elected officials, to write that letter, share the truth with your coworkers, et cetera, and end this because truth is going to win this. It’s just a question of when and the ‘when’ really depends on you, my friends.

Let’s hear a little bit about what Mr. Rosenthal thinks, thought I guess, of this drug war and it’ll give us something we can talk about.

Former Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal: You know, it’s not one of those things where it’s unilateral, that prosecutors send anybody anyplace. I mean pleas are taken by judges who review the facts. They have defendants who are represented by their lawyers and it’s not a situation where were just wholesale sending people off to jail without any consideration for the circumstances they had the drug in, or whether or not they were first offenders, whether they offended before.

We take all these things into consideration. In fact, I don’t think you can say that there’s a standard on anything. We have to look at every case on a case by case basis of what the evidence shows.

Dean Becker: OK, and this is from another Chronicle editorial: ‘Harris County data showed that sixty-two percent of those convicted for less than one gram of drugs were Black out of a local population that is only 18 percent black.’ Wouldn’t that tend to indicate some sort of racial bias?

Former Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal: No, I think it indicates the race of the people that are using crack cocaine more than anything else. And it is a problem in our community. I know that I’ve worked with, and still continue to work with, several groups in the Black community to try to eradicate this problem.”

Dean Becker: He didn’t make much progress in that, did he, Mark?

Mark Bennett: Karma caught up with him first. I’m sure he would say that if he had been allowed to continue in the job he would have made a lot of progress, but I think we know better.

Dean Becker: And, I’m not asking you for your party affiliation or for you to endorse any of the District Attorney candidates, but the election of that person will certainly have more impact on the drug war than likely the President election will.

Mark Bennett: Absolutely. Absolutely. The Harris County District Attorney is one of the, I’d venture to say, three or four most powerful single elected officials in the country. And possible one of the top two or three because it’s a large county and the Harris County District Attorney has so much discretion that he can have more direct effects on more people’s lives than the President can.

Dean Becker: Right. And, as we were talking about earlier, it is the decision of the Harris Country District Attorney of whether or not to continue arresting thousands of people for minor amounts of drugs, and thus far I haven’t heard any of them say they’re going to change direction. Have you?

Mark Bennett: I haven’t heard that either. No.

Dean Becker: Well, I want to make this offer to you and to whoever winds up being the official Republican and, of course, it will be Bradford for the Democrat side, but I want to invite them and you to do a debate right here. We won’t just talk about the drug war, there’s much we can talk about, the death penalty, big on the radar screen of most folks, the way that we lead the world in our willingness to send our fellow man to death, sometimes for nebulous and incorrect evidence.

Again, this is an official invitation. I will send out emails and make calls but I want the candidates to know that you have a chance to share with the people your...and I’m going to have it a full-on debate with point-counterpoint, get down to the nitty-gritty on some of these thoughts on who will do what and why. And I’m not going to do any softball questions like you hear on most of corporate media.

Houston has, as I said in the editorial, kind of led the world in it’s desire to be the most bold and forthright in its prosecution of this drug war and yet over the years it’s kind of lost it’s luster. I think, if I had the chance to sit down with Kelly Siegler or any of these DA candidates for five minutes of open discussion, not one where they cut it off because I ask the wrong question, we could, I think, find within them the knowledge, the perception and perhaps even the willingness to begin to make these changes.

But they hide from it. It’s like the drug war’s been handed down from generation to generation as if it were the Arc of the Covenant and no one dares to look inside for fear of disturbing the Gods, I suppose. But what’s your thoughts, Sir? What will it take to get these people to move from their positions?

Mark Bennett: I think it will take what you’re doing here, which is informing the voters. I don’t think that the change is going to come from the top down, I think the change has got to come from the bottom up. I think once the politicians realize that the voters aren’t buying the fear anymore, that we don’t want the fear, that we want to know the truth instead of having fear, I think the politicians will catch up pretty quickly.

But I don’t think that the politicians, I don’t think any politician feels comfortable standing up saying ‘Look people, you don’t have to be afraid. You don’t have to be afraid of drugs if we legalize drugs, it’s not going to be the end of the world and in fact here are some ways that it’s going to be a better world.’

Politicians are afraid to say that right now because they don’t think that enough people are convinced of that but once enough people down at the grass-roots level are convinced I think the politicians at some point are going to figure it out and some smart politician is going to say, as has happened in New Mexico, ‘You know, it’s time to consider legalizing these drugs. Maybe we don’t need to be so afraid of drugs being legal, maybe it’s worse for them to be illegal than for them to be legal.’

Dean Becker: Sure. New Mexico even had the good common sense to, I can’t think of the name of it, I’ll call it the ‘911 law,’ that you and I are in a room, I shoot heroin, it looks like I’m dying maybe, having problems. Well you could go ahead and pick up the phone and say ‘Hey, my friend shot some heroin, I think he’s having trouble.’ Ambulance shows up, neither one of us would be arrested for whatever drugs are found in that house. And one person lives and the State doesn’t need to punish anybody for saving that life.

To me, it’s so embarrassing that our stature around the world is so denigrated by people in Bolivia. They wonder what the heck is wrong with the United States that we want to destroy their Mother Coca because everyone in the country uses it and they don’t understand why we hate them so, that we want to take away their Mother Coca. The same holds true for, I guess, the situation in Mexico where we insist these drugs cost so much that people are so willing to bring them across the border, to make the billions of dollars that they’ll kill law enforcement and public officials and they’ll have shoot-outs killing innocents on the street and that they’ll do whatever they can to play ‘who wants to be a billionaire?’ and it’s all happening because we insist that it stay in place.

Earlier I was talking with you, Mark, about the fact that we have over the years made some progress, that a few years ago I don’t think that the head of the Criminal Defense Lawyers would be in here talking this openly, this directly about this. Perhaps we could have had a discussion but I don’t think...look, if you were in law enforcement I’d invite you to become a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. You get this.

Mark Bennett: I am in law enforcement. I enforce the Constitution.

Dean Becker: (laughter) I like that. But I mean we seek to have people who have been prosecutors, cops, wardens, on that side of it join us but you can certainly become a friend of LEAP if you want. We’ll talk after the show about that but we have desperately squandered so much potential in this country fighting a war that can never be won and you out there, the dear listeners of the Drug Truth Network, have begun making that difference. Your awareness, your discussions have begun to open up that can of worms and now we can all go fishing for truth.

Mark, we only have a couple of minutes left. I ramble on. I talk and talk about this. I preach. And by the way, I do preach to churches around the South Texas area. If you’d like for me to preach to your church send me an email, dean@drugtruth.net. I speak to high-schools, colleges, I was asked to speak at the Libertarian convention. I’m willing to speak anywhere. I think you understand that.

Mark Bennett: You said that you thought that a few years ago the Defense Bar wouldn’t come in and talk about this. I don’t think that’s quite right. I think the Defense Bar has historically been the leaders in fighting against the abomination that they call the ‘war on drugs.’ And the Harris Country Criminal Defense Bar has not been as well organized as it has become in the last couple of years so you haven’t heard a whole lot from the Harris County Criminal Defense Bar until, we’ve gained a lot of credibility in the last three or four presidents which I hope to continue their speaking out in the community and making the organization more felt, in making a difference, in making the world a better place.

But that’s really what we’re talking about here is making the world a better place and we’re talking, when we’re talking about the so-called ‘war on drugs’ we’re talking about policies of fear, and when we’re talking about any kind of alternative we’re talking about policies based on love. You talk about the New Mexico ‘911 law’ which allows somebody’s who’s witnessed an overdose to call 911 and be immune from prosecution for a connection with the drugs as well as the person who has overdosed, them not being prosecuted, that’s a compassionate stance. And compassion is based on love rather than fear and if we’re going to sit around being afraid of each other all the time we’re just going to destroy each other and destroy ourselves in the course of it. So that’s, this is just one, the war on drugs is probably the central front in what I see as the basic struggle of humanity, which is a struggle between love and fear. Struggle between government power which is based on fear and human freedom which is based on love. So this is, the war on drugs, the war on brown people, the war on poor people, that’s the central front right now. In America at least. And if we can make progress on this front then maybe we can start rolling back the powers of fear, the forces of fear, on lots of other fronts as well.

Dean Becker: Now Mark and I have been practicing. We’re going to sing ‘Kickin’ in the Doors’ and I hope the torture drives you to your phone.

Dean Becker/Mark Bennett:

[tune: Bringing in the Sheaves]

Kickin’ in the door
Kickin’ in the door
We shall bring Salvation
Kickin’ in the door

Dean Becker: Do you want more of that? No you don’t.

Mark Bennett: If that doesn’t make them call nothing will.


Dean Becker: Well, OK, maybe a few years ago I wouldn’t have had the head of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association singing that song with me.

Mark Bennett: You probably wouldn’t have six weeks ago.


Didn’t you have Pat McCann on with you?

Dean Becker: I did, I did.

Mark Bennett: Did he sing with you?

Dean Becker: No, he didn’t sing. We weren’t doing pledge drive then but...

Mark Bennett: He has a lovely Irish tenor.

Dean Becker: ...it’s a shame.

But I was really thrilled. As I toured the lobby of the venue last night for the Republican debate that I got a chance to talk with several attorneys and nobody thought I was crazy, nobody thought that my postulations were absurd or ridiculous. The change is waiting for you, me dear friends, my listeners, my educated followers of the Drug Truth Network.

You, I’ve said it for years and it will be the truth, that you, yes you, will make the difference. You will be the one that tips this over. That’s the last straw on that camel’s back, that makes it possible for these politicians to say ‘Well, you know, you may be right. Maybe we do need to change. You know, I’ve had a lot of constituents. I’ve heard from various people who think that maybe there is a better way.’ I can’t do it. Heck, Mr. Bennett can’t do it.

Even everybody in Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, by themselves, cannot do it. It’s going to take you, the educated and informed listener-citizen of this fair city doing your part, being a citizen, participating and explaining why we have, and how, we have failed so miserably.

I’m going to give you the spiel that I give to potential additional affiliates when I call them up and I’m trying to entice them to join into the Drug Truth Network and it goes something like this:

Hi, my name’s Dean Becker. I produce nine radio shows each week about the harms of the drug war; seven three minute pieces we call the 4:20 Drug War News and two half-hour shows, Cultural Baggage, Century of Lies. We interview judges, congressmen, scientists, doctors, lawyers, authors, patients, prisoners, providers, any and everyone willing to talk about this subject. I offer these programs to your station free of charge.

And through that effort, and the fact that many times they just call me up and just ask if they can use the program, we are on about fifty radio stations in the U.S. and Canada, all the way up into Alaska and it started with you, it started with your involvement, your participation and your pledges to this program that gave us the, if you will, ‘the stature’ to continue on to get our second hour, to get our seven days per week 4:20 Drug War News. We only use five or six here but that’s OK. Some of the other stations use them twice and three times a day, so they are of worth but it all comes from you and your embrace of the Drug Truth Network.

We do have, in studio, Mr. Mark Bennett, the incoming President of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association and, Mark, I want to thank you so much for coming in here. This has been a wonderful discussion. It’s something that this type discussion needs to be held in every living room and every church house in this town, does it not?

Mark Bennett: Absolutely. Absolutely. And people need to be writing letters and calling their congressmen and their senators and saying ‘Look, it’s time for this to end. This is enough.’ And once the politicians get enough letters and enough calls and enough emails saying ‘Look, I know there’s nothing in particular that you’re voting on right now that has anything to do with this but this really has to end,’ they’ll start figuring out that this really has to end.

Dean Becker: I hope you enjoyed this special edition of Century of Lies and that you’ll remember that there is no justification for this drug war. There is no scientific fact, medical data, in fact no reason what-so-ever 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 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