05/07/08 - Clarence Bradford

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Clarence Bradford, the former police chief of Houston, Texas now running for District Attorney of Harris County discusses the drug war with host Dean Becker a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Audio file

Cultural Baggage, May 7, 2008

Broadcasting on the Drug Truth Network, this is Cultural Baggage.

My name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison, and judicial nightmare that feeds on eternal drug war.

Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. I’m glad you could be with us today. It’s going to be kind of a two-parter. Our scheduled guest, Clarence Bradford, who is running for District Attorney here in Harris County is on the road right now, coming back from a funeral of a nearby police chief and will join us in the studio here in just a while.

But, are you with us, Mr. Bradford?

Clarence Bradford: Yes I am. Good morning. Thank you for having me on this program and I’m honored to have an opportunity to speak to the audience.

Dean Becker: Well, and I thank you, sir. I think it takes a bit of courage and conviction to come on our show. I’m not going to say we’re on different sides of this issue, perhaps there are many points where we can find agreement. That is my hope that what we can do today, sir.

Clarence Bradford: Thank you. If we are talking about promoting fairness and justice in the Harris County criminal justice system I’d say we’re on the same side, even on the same page.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. As you are probably aware I am a speaker for a group of current and former criminal justice officials. We’re called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. We see great harms and enormous blowback from the policy of prohibition. And I want you to know you’re in good company joining us here. Past guests have included Kurt Schmoke, U.N. Drug Czar Antonio Maria Costa, NIDA scientist Dr. Donald Tashkin and a thousand others. Let’s begin the discussion. There’s a Texas house bill, #2391, which allows for each district attorney in Texas to choose whether they want to arrest and jail those who commit a myriad of crimes, minor theft or graffiti, bad checks at under 500 bucks and they can stop arresting those with less than four ounces of marijuana. Only one district attorney has taken advantage of that bill. Will you support citations?

Clarence Bradford: I think what we need to do is--the district attorney is responsible for enforcing the law, not making the law. The citizens of Harris County will make a determination as to what they want enforced as the law just like the Texas State Legislature promised its statutes on the book and the D.A. and law enforcement enforces the law. I don’t think it’s an individual D.A.’s decision to determine what the law should be or to apply his or hers personal choices.

Dean Becker: Well, sir, that doesn’t really answer my question. I know that up in Austin they have chosen to no longer arrest and jail people for minor pot possession charges. They can still take them to trial, they can still sentence them to prison but it kind of cuts out a step and cuts down on the jail overcrowding. Your thoughts on that?

Clarence Bradford: I think that different communities will have different standards of expectations and what needs to happen in Harris County--well, the Harris County the one’s to say a certain level of narcotics shouldn’t be pursued as criminal statutes or drug paraphernalia--I think that’s yet to be determined. Me, I’m pro-law enforcement and I’ve spent time, I have a career of enforcing the law but just locking people up, putting them in jail for minor offenses has failed us and has not solved the problem that we are confronted with, particularly with people who have addiction problems. We need to work more towards resolving the problem which goes beyond simply locking people up. That’s not getting us to where we want to get to.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. OK, yesterday I saw in The Chronicle we had a potential juror on a marijuana case here in Houston that got caught outside the courthouse smoking a joint. Now, of course, this reflects poorly on all pot smokers, I think just as drinking a beer outside the court house would reflect poorly on beer drinkers. Too bad this accused won’t really have a jury of his peers, and I want to ask you, sir: what will you do about jury selections for trial juries, and for the grand juries? Will they remain peers of the D.A. or will we return to a real cross section of our citizens?

Clarence Bradford. I think that we need a cross section of our citizenry, that the current process needs a modification made to it. What exact modifications need to be made? I have some ideas about that. I look forward to meeting with a group of citizens who, some who have served as jury members, some who have been involved in the grand jury process or are currently involved in the process and some other people who have not been involved in the process but have an interest in it to sit down to talk about the process and see what and when do we need to present to the Texas State Legislature to modify the grand jury process in Texas and as it relates to local jury pools, that process needs to be revamped. We do not have a cross-section because people do not understand the process, they don’t trust the process, they’ve seen blatant abuse of power and issues of discretion in that process.

Dean Becker: We have, over the years, we were talking about interpretation of the law and we have a situation up in, is it Bexar County, San Antonio, where the Texas Legislature and the Governor signed off on a pilot program for a needle exchange program and yet the D.A. fought that, got a ruling, and they’re now going to take this minister and his cohorts to trial for distributing needles. Once again, isn’t that perhaps an example of the D.A. usurping the rights of the Legislature?

Clarence Bradford: Well, there’s one thing that the Attorney General does in the State of Texas is interpret what some of the laws are, what the enforcement mechanism should be, there’s an interpretation that that will, in fact, fall under the drug paraphernalia statute and there’s a prohibition of that in the State of Texas. We need to look what the laws are through the legislative bodies, whether it is Commissions Court, where there’s city council members, or the Texas State Legislature. Let’s clean up at the legislative level in Austin what the laws are going to be as opposed to allowing each individual jurisdiction the latitude of discretion to enforce his or her own personal preferences. I don’t concur with that.

Dean Becker: You know, polls are conducted by ABC and Zogby and all kinds of other folks about marijuana, medical marijuana, and the results always come out sixty to eighty percent in favor of it. Across American more than a hundred million Americans, half the adult population, have used marijuana. And in many states across the country and cities in particular, I’m sorry, have passed referendums, have determined that they want to make the enforcement of the marijuana laws the lowest law enforcement priority. Of course, here in Texas we don’t have that ability, we cannot, the citizens can not put things on the ballot. And I know that the focus of the district attorney, perhaps the most powerful man in this county, could through discussions, say, with the mayor or even the governor, change our slant, change our perspective on this. Don’t we waste a whole lot of man-hours digging through trunks and ashtrays for marijuana?

Clarence Bradford: I am not an advocate of the use of marijuana. And marijuana use in Texas is illegal. If we’re going to deal with the sanctions that should be imposed if someone is caught possessing marijuana, or using such, I think that’s what you’re talking about, the sanctions. Because it’s illegal we take oaths of office as public officials to follow the law and enforce the law. We have a duty to do that. If we need to get the laws changed about what they are that’s a legislative issue and, more importantly, I concur with you that the sanctions are far too harsh in many areas as it relates to the use of some of the low level drugs.

Dean Becker: I want to talk about the conundrum that I deal with here. I talk with legislators and judges and people in authority and behind closed doors they can talk about--yeah, there’s that need for change but they talk about the legislators don’t enforce the law and the D.A.s don’t write the law and the cops don’t prioritize the law but, in my opinion, sir, the people are flat-out sick of this drug war. Can you be a voice of reason? Will you carry some of this discussion back to the legislature, the mayor and the governor’s office? Can you talk about that need for change?

Clarence Bradford: The legislators represent the people. If the legislators are not representing the people the people should vote those legislators out who are not getting their message, who are not getting the people’s wills done. I will commit to generating a discussion about public safety in Harris County and public safety goes well beyond just simple criminal prosecution. The mission of the district attorney’s office is public safety which includes several components, citizen education and awareness, crime prevention, intake case screening and criminal prosecution. We need to have a discussion about what we expect to happen in the way of sanctions--we have a jail full in Harris County now, we’re shipping people out of state. The Texas state system is full. We need to hold people accountable, not be soft on crime, but use more of today’s efficient and effective methods to hold people accountable. There are means to do it other than locking everyone up for everything that they do.

Dean Becker: Yeah, yeah, I agree with you. You know, the cities of Dallas and Austin no longer ring up every person they find with a crack pipe or an empty bag of-quote-hard drugs but Houston continues right down to the microscopic level, seeking these felony convictions. Again, it’s overcrowding our jails, is it not?

Clarence Bradford: Those are violations of the law which you have cited and they should be enforced. The issue is what should the sanction be? When you catch someone, low-level type offenses, should you write them a ticket, should you give them probation, deferred adjudication? That is the issue is how we are handling people who violate the law, low-level offenses, non-violent offenses. We are locking up too many people, in my view, for low-level type offenses.

Dean Becker: Have we made any progress on this drug war, say in the last five years?

Clarence Bradford: I think that we must understand that dealing with drugs, the enforcement component, the interdiction--we’ve worked hard there and we’ve spent a lot of resources in that area but we’ve done very, very little when it comes to prevention and education. You cannot be effective in the drug war, in my view, if you don’t have a effective education component and rehabilitation component to the strategy. And that’s where we failed.

Dean Becker: It is my hope that, my gosh, there’s growing public awareness even within the legislature and so forth and our fiscal resources are being drained and we can’t afford to lock up the world’s largest amount of prisoners here in Texas anymore. Do you think there’s any chance the legislators will make some changes in the next five years?

Clarence Bradford: I think that if we look at Harris County, the last election, we had five Harris County bond proposals on the ballot. They all passed except one and that was to build a new 2,500 bed jail facility. The voters said no, they’re not going to do that. And I think they said ‘no’ because, not that they want criminals loose on the streets, they want criminals held accountable by means other than locking everyone up. In the news now, we are shipping hundreds of prisoners, Harris County prisoners, over to the State of Louisiana, paying companies to house Harris County prisoners. I think that’s not the thing we should be doing. We should be looking at the precious bed space we have and exercising good fiscal stewardship of the resources we currently have to keep people in Texas, house people in Texas and reduce the number of people that we are incarcerating. Again, not to allow violent criminals or repeat offenders or anyone who poses a threat to the community, don’t let those people go free, that’s not what I’m an advocate of. I’m not soft on crime but I do believe that we must use the precious bed space that we have.

Dean Becker: One of the phrases that I like to use is that, you know, it’s time to no longer be so tough on crime but to be smart on crime. And I respect your comments, sir. You know, do we need an independence of public integrity unit, something to avoid the appearance of covering up police or jail or politician misconduct?

Clarence Bradford: There are several components in what you’re talking about. All these processes are inextricably intertwined. Whether you want oversight over the jail and the sheriff’s department, the district attorney’s office, the police departments, the district attorney’s entities, all those are different entities with related activities but it warrants a much greater discussion than what we can have here on this phone, but I do believe that citizens ought to get more involved in the processes and government works best when there is a great amount of openness, the more open things are the better it works.

Dean Becker: I’m wondering if to allow the public to be more confident in what’s going on if the district attorney, the police chief and others could put their training manuals, their policy and case guidelines, hiring policies, checklists, all of this online so that people could see what they’re dealing with and not be, kind of, in the dark about how it’s all supposed to work.

Clarence Bradford. I think those things should be public. The district attorney must be visible and accessible to all communities. The district attorney must obey the law, respect the principle of justice and pursue the truth. I don’t see any reason not to have information public unless it jeopardizes an ongoing investigation for criminal prosecution. Other than that it should be public.

Dean Becker: You know the crime lab here has been shut down for the fourth time in six years for incompetence, corruption, you name it, and you were police chief during one of those shut downs but you’re not some CSI scientist and by virtue of the fact that it keeps on failing long after you left I’m not assigning blame to you. My good friend Attorney Jeff Blackburn and his Texas Innocence Project keep getting people released from prison because of bad lab work done all over this state. And I’m asking you, sir, what can we do to protect the innocent from false evidence and lazy dry labbing techniques?

Clarence Bradford: Thank you. When I became police chief, Mayor Bob Lanier appointed me police chief in 1996, I continued to rely on the same crime lab, the DNA section supervisor who two previous police chiefs have relied on because I don’t have a science or biology degree, so I relied on that person. Now we’ve learned subsequently that that person had been doing a poor job all along and was doing a poor job then. The crime lab has been a problem, it has been documented since 1980. It continues to be a problem today, in my view, and it will continue to be a problem until we establish an independent process, a process that the crime lab is independent of the police department, independent of the district attorney’s office and where scientists are allowed to do their work and evidence speaks for itself. It must be independent, in short, for this reason. To get the proper resources that are needed for the crime lab and the proper scientific oversight, we need to have a laboratory that is independent of the police department and the district attorney’s office.

Dean Becker: Thank you, sir. We are speaking with Mr. Clarence Bradford, Democratic candidate for District Attorney of Harris County. He’s our former police chief. I want to also mention I have invited your opponent, Pat Lycos, to be our guest as well and I’ve not yet heard a formal response from them, whether they’re going to come on. Can you name the number one success of this drug war and how would you rate that success against the empowerment of the terrorists, the enriching of the cartels and gangs and giving reason for the violent gangs to exist, selling drugs to our kids?

Clarence Bradford: You said ‘name the number one success?’

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Clarence Bradford: I think there are a number of things that, in fact, have occurred as a result of this war on drugs and gang activity. A lot of resources has been put into it over the course of several years and we’ve had marginal success in many areas. I think we have failed, as I said earlier, to work on the education and prevention side of it. If you look at industries, whether it’s law enforcement, detention centers, counseling services, etc. a lot of resources have been deployed there, when more successful rehabilitations and providing realistic opportunities for people to rehabilitate themselves and reintegrate back into the community, we haven’t done as well there at all.

Dean Becker: Well, I understand that TDC in the last couple of years has pretty much done away with drug treatment programs in most of the prisons.

Clarence Bradford: That’s why I think the district attorney’s job is public safety. It goes beyond just simply criminal prosecution because you can prosecute, prosecute, prosecute people all day but if you are not reducing the number of victims in the community, if you are not improving public safety--if someone who’s addicted to drugs, if you pick them up, put them through the system, they come out, they’re addicted again, on the street, and it’s just cyclical--you’re not improving public safety at all by doing that. But if you look at a strategy that will help maybe rehabilitate that person, help this person realistically in a way to become gainfully employed, work themselves back into the mainstream society--now you’ve had a positive impact on public safety and communities.

Dean Becker: You bet, you bet. Now, the federal government kind of issues mandates and studies and reports talking about the need for more drug war and yet, many times, they get caught with their pants down. Just about two or three months ago our Drug Czar, John Walters, was touting the fact that they had stopped so much cocaine coming in that the price was rising and called it a major success but the Houston Chronicle came out and said, ‘Well, that’s just not true.’ Certainly not in the City of Houston. Have we, and I’m not talking about you as a D.A, I’m just just talking about as a general population, have we not been fed, often, a bag of lies that kind of keeps the hysteria going?

Clarence Bradford: I think we’ve been less effective in the war on drugs than what has been presented to us. And we’ve been not as effective as we should have been because we’ve put a tremendous amount of resource on the enforcement end and on interdiction and we’ve haven’t done very much on education and prevention.

Dean Becker: All right, sir. Now, Houston is one of the world’s largest hubs for the distribution of drugs. It has enticed many of our children into lives of crime or addiction. You know, it’s truthfully, sir, it’s just everywhere. It’s in every neighborhood and this is somewhat facetious but it’s a question I’d like for you to address. How many officers would it take to arrest every drug dealer in Houston?

Clarence Bradford: We can’t possibly hire enough officers to effectively deal with the drug problem in Houston, Harris County, Texas. Because public safety is a community responsibility. You need officers involved as well as the community involved.

Dean Becker: All right. We do have Mr. Bradford in studio now. I’m happy that you’re able to join us in person, sir. We have, I think, opened the dialogue. I have sought to open this discourse in the City of Houston. The mayor and the council, the commissioners and the judge, I go to speak to them and they tell me that we have, you know, the most they ever asked me was ‘What do I want?’ And I just tell them, I want to stop the stigma. Houston leads the world in it’s incarceration rate. CBS Television local here just did a major report on that on their ten o’clock news and it’s primarily because of this drug war. You’ve talked about the need to change our focus, our means of accomplishing our goals, and yet, around the world, Houston is know as ‘Gulag City.’ What are you’re thoughts there, sir?

Clarence Bradford: Well, we have to step back and take a broad approach to public safety, and as I said earlier, public safety is a community responsibility and deal with public safety and understand that law enforcement and prosecution is one component of the public safety strategy. We have to step forward and say ‘We need effective treatment programs. We need effective crime prevention strategies.’ We have to step forward and say things like ‘After school programs are effective crime prevention strategies.’ We need a section, I believe, in the district attorney’s office that is composed of non-lawyers which bring skills to the table in the area of crime prevention, drug abuse treatment, counseling, other areas to help with the proper screening of cases before we put all of them into the criminal prosecution process to make sure that we are utilizing effective and efficient diversion strategies. Public resources are constantly dwindling and good fiscal stewardship of those resources that are there should be effective public safety measures.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. You know, we have, over the years, kind of changed our slant on certain things here in Houston. We no longer arrest people for a single seed. We don’t send people to prison for ten years for a joint like they did with Lee Otis, I believe it was. But we still cling to this, I want to say, disbelief in marijuana being a threat. I’ve seen studies that show it’s not anywhere near the threat of alcohol and yet it’s sold in every convenience store. Now I understand that you want to enforce the law. Even Chuck Rosenthal told me that if the people of Texas don’t want marijuana to be illegal then they need to change it. But we don’t have that referendum. What can the people do to help influence their politicians?

Clarence Bradford: I think that people need to express their desires to their elected representatives, particularly those members of the Texas State Legislature and make it known that they want something different done about sanctions that are attached to certain types of offenses. If that is the case, there are a number of people who still want aggressive actions taken against people who violate the laws, particularly, as of late, to drug use and abuse.

Dean Becker: All right, sir. Now, we have the, I’ll get this wrong, Mara Salvatrucha, the gang members coming up from Central and South America, getting involved here in the drug distribution. And, again, this is a thought from my organization, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, we can gut their organization, we can take away their power, their ability to buy their Mach-10s by legalizing, taxing and controlling these drugs. I’m not asking you to endorse that. I’m just saying, sir, we need to reassess what we’re up to, do we not?

Clarence Bradford: Yes, we need to reassess how we are approaching the drug issue, the war on drug issue and public safety in general. It’s fair to say that we have done things a certain way over the last several decades in Harris County, in Texas and, perhaps, across America as it relates to this issue. And we are seeing today, we have a crime problem in Harris County, more and more citizens distrust components of our justice system, so what we have done, have been doing, it has failed us because our Harris County Jail is full, it’s over capacity. The Texas State Detention Center, 160,000 plus, it is full. Crime is still going up. What we have been doing has failed us. We must step back and look at things a little bit differently.

Dean Becker: I thank you for that, sir. Once again, we’re speaking with Mr. Clarence Bradford running for District Attorney in Harris County. He’s our former Police Chief and a man I deeply respect for coming on our show and talking about these issues. It has been a dream of mine for years now that we could open the discourse and it is my hope that his opponent, Pat Lycos, will join us next week and discuss this further, but we have, we will, working together, make the difference you’re speaking about Mr. Bradford.

Clarence Bradford: Thank you. I will take an oath of office to enforce the law and will do that but that does not mean that, as a position of authority, as a person in the community, that I don’t have a responsibility to try to instigate discussion to make sure that laws are modified when they need to be modified to best serve the community. Sometimes we change as a community, as a society and we modify laws to meet the needs of today’s people. And I think there are many areas in Texas today where the law is, kind of, I wouldn’t say outlived its usefulness, but it’s not effective when it comes to dealing with their particular problem at hand.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. You probably know that these marijuana laws were originally written, kind of, as a border fence. They were to stop the Mexicans from taking white mens’ jobs, gosh, the cocaine laws came from the idea that black men on cocaine, you couldn’t bring them down with a .32, you had to use a .38. The Chinamen on opium were a threat to white women. It all started in racial bias and, truthfully, sir, I think it still continues in that fashion because most of the folks in our jail are black and hispanic, a lot of them for drug charges. Your thought?

Clarence Bradford: I think that as an enforcement official, whether it’s district attorneys or police officers across Texas, we must be careful that enforcement officials enforce the law and fulfill their duties and let the legislators, through the will of the people, determine what the statutes are going to be. We don’t want to get to the point where those who are enforcing the law make the law. We take oaths of office to enforce the law and that’s the way it should be. If laws are not what we think they should be then, again, the people should rally the legislators and get the laws modified.

Dean Becker: Well, we’ve got just about a minute left. Once again, Mr. Bradford, I want to thank you. Again, it is the discourse, that’s all I’ve been asking for, because I think that if we take out the evidence, if you will, the facts involved and just examine them we will be forced to change because it just has not succeeded, this drug war, in its original intent.

Clarence Bradford: I totally concur. There must be openness. As District Attorney I will be visible and accessible to all communities. The District Attorney’s job is to enforce the law. However first the D.A. must obey the law. I will obey the law and ensure that everyone who works in the district attorney’s office follows the law. And to protect this community, those who break the law will be prosecuted aggressively but fairly. We shouldn’t cheat to win. No more racism, no more sexism, no more religious persecution, no more kicking Harris County citizens off of juries because they attend a certain church. That stuff is wrong. We will move forward. I have the experience, education and training to bring integrity and fairness to the Harris County District Attorney’s office.

Dean Becker: Thank you for that. Once again, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Clarence Bradford, running for Harris County D.A. I’m told we have one minute left. And I want to take this to a, typically I do an editorial, but today I just want to give thanks. I want to thank you for this. As I said, this has been a dream of mine, to open this dialogue and the group I work with, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, we speak, I think we’ve done 4,000 presentations worldwide and I would be honored if you would consider, you know, talking with a few of our more illustrious members, people who’ve been former narcotics officers, thirteen years in New Jersey, and so forth, and they can tell you about their perceptions, you know, this is an open invitation to you, to any politician in America, to reexamine what we’re up to.

I’m told we’ve got to wind it up here but be sure to tune into this week’s Century of Lies. We have some great guests for you there dealing with the subject of marijuana and, as always, I remind you that because of prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag so please be careful.


To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth. This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.

Tap dancing on the edge on an abyss.

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