06/03/08 - Gary Blankenship

Gary Blankenship, president of Houston Police Officers Union + Drug War Facts with Doug McVay

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Guest: 
Gary Blankenship
Organization: 
Houston Police Officers Union
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Century of Lies, June 3, 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.
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Dean Becker: Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. I’m so glad you could be with us and I’m especially happy that today we, once again, open the discussion about the policy of drug war and how it impacts our city, our state, and our nation. And I’m proud to have with us Mr. Gary Blankenship. He’s Senior Police Officer and he’s President of the Houston Police Officers Union. Welcome, Gary.

Gary Blankenship: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. You know, we had the DA candidates on a few weeks back and all I’ve been trying to do over the years is open this discussion because I think once we fully examine our policy and what it has wrought that we will be forced to make some sort of changes, perhaps incrementally, but it’s just great to have you with us. Now, if you would, tell us about the title Senior Police Officer.

Gary Blankenship: Well, I’ve been a police officer for 32 years, five years I spent with the Harris County Sheriff’s Department and 27 years I’ve been with the City of Houston Police Department.

Dean Becker: OK. A little bit about your experience: have you worked in narcotics?

Gary Blankenship: No, I have not.

Dean Becker: Have not? Still, 27 years. That’s a lot of time in grade I guess you’d call it.

Gary Blankenship: Sure, sure. And worked the streets most of those years.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. Now, we have, over the years, I think blown it here in Houston. We’ll get down to some of those details here soon, but reaching back to the time of John Short on forward through all the DAs and so forth--Houston has now gotten to the point where Channel 11, a couple of months back, did a story talking about Houston now leads the world in its incarceration of its own people. I know you guys don’t take pride in that. I know there is probably some nuances, some changes that could come about. The drug war is the driving engine, I guess, of this rate of incarceration. I tell you what. Last week we had on show a gentleman who writes for the Washington Post, his name is Neil Pierce, I’m going to let him kind of introduce this because, hey, I’m just an old hippie. I try to bring the voice of people who have more stature into the discussion.

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Neal Peirce: Well, you know, the fact is that there has been in human nature, since the dawn of time, a desire for mind altering substances. Opiates, alcohol, whatever it might be. And you can try as hard as you would like to stamp out that part of the human desire and it just doesn’t work. It has to be seen that these are substances, some of which are quite dangerous, are quite, not easy to kick once you get going with them, but the treatment of various types, and then trying to convince on the merits people not to use them is far better than setting up a black market system in which they use them anyway but we create this huge criminal enterprise in the process.

And what astounds me is that the issue does not get out into public debate widely enough. Have you heard anyone ask at a Presidential Debate, ‘what are we going to do about the failure of our thirty some year War on Drugs?’ No one asks the question.

Dean Becker: Haven’t heard it, sir.

Neal Peirce: Nor have they asked the question, ‘why do we have the most people incarcerated of any country in the world and the highest per capita incarceration rate?’ A large reason for that is that we, with our wealth, are the great vacuum cleaner pulling in drugs and paying out huge amounts of money for. And it’s a really bad situation which we are unwilling to discuss and make a major public issue in this country and therefore as long as that’s the case we’ll continue to suffer the terrible price that we’re seeing with the criminality on our streets, with the seduction of lots of people into drug use who would normally not get into it as much, they were pushed into it, they were very poor, they pulled into the drug rings in the inner-city neighborhoods and elsewhere. And we wouldn’t be seeing other countries like Colombia and Mexico suffering so grievously because of our habits.

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Dean Becker: All right. Once again that was Mr. Neal Peirce, writer for the Washington Post. You know, last year--we’re speaking with Mr. Gary Blankenship, Senior Police Officer, President of the Houston Police Officers Union--Gary, last year I participated in a debate with a gentleman name Stan Furce, ONDCP, do you know who he is?

Gary Blankenship: Yes.

Dean Becker: And he and Marsha Baker and I had a discussion out at Houston Community College, ‘Are We Winning the War on Drugs?’ And I think I won it hands down and so do they but the once thing that stuck in my mind was Mr. Furce’s summary of what the drug war’s all about. And I think this is likely the same mindset of the cop on the beat who’s just doing his job. Mr. Furce said ‘Drug law enforcement was akin to mowing the lawn, to taking out the garbage.’ Can you clarify that for us? Do you see it as taking out the garbage?

Gary Blankenship: Oh, certainly. The drug problem is big. Mowing the lawn, the grass keeps growing.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Gary Blankenship: It’s a continuing job. These people who deal in drugs are getting more sophisticated. They have more technology. And, regardless of what you think, money’s a big issue in the criminal justice in any government entity and we have to have money to fight the money. And it’s rapidly growing. These people make big money dealing these drugs and it takes big money to fight them. But I don’t know the alternative of just giving up--I don’t think we can do that either. You said a little while ago ‘Houston leads the country in drug arrests,’ I’m proud of that ‘cause we’re certainly working short handed here and I’m proud of the fact that we are arresting bad guys.

Dean Becker: I honor most of the work the HPD does. I think they’re brave and noble souls for doing what they do. But, from my perspective, Houston is one of the major drug hubs of this country, perhaps of the world. And our streets are flooded with it. They bring it through here on a constant daily basis, semi loads et cetera, and it has served as a lure, as an enticement, to our kids to either get involved in the trade for money or the lure of the drugs themselves have led to addictions. I mean, I had Clarence Bradford on this show a couple of weeks back and he said that there was no way we could stop the flow, in fact let’s go ahead and play track number seven--

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Clarence Bradford: 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 need to get to.

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Dean Becker: And I guess my thought then, sir, is we have a major situation here in Harris County where are jails are overflowing, we’re sending more and more prisoners to the state lockup, and it’s costing us a fortune. And a large amount of those in jail are there for corners of baggies of cocaine or more than an ounce or two of marijuana. We should, in my opinion, devote our resources, our finances, towards getting those people bringing in those truckloads and a little less time on the users. What’s your thoughts, sir?

Gary Blankenship: I agree with you on hundred percent there. Chief Bradford was talking about the minor possession cases and a lot of those cases I think he’s referring to, those people are addicts. And I think if you’ll look at the number of beds that were available in our mental health system in the 50s, that number has diminished a lot and a lot of these people that we could probably be helping in the mental health system are bleeding over into the criminal justice system. Out of the 250,000 or so inmates in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice I think the numbers are around 40,000 should be in the mental health system and law enforcement certainly is being overburdened by people in the criminal justice system by people that should be in the mental health system. I know Senator Whitmire’s been working very hard to fix this problem with mental health. Certainly these people that are addicts--those folks need the supply cut off and they need help. And we’re certainly in favor of that. As far as the guys bringing this stuff in, I think we’re trudging forward trying to get those folks off the street.

Dean Becker: I thank you for that. Yeah, we have, I guess, for the last 20-25 years suffered with that situation where these mentally deficient, I’ll say, individuals have just been turned loose. They’re out on our streets, they’re creating problems that should be solved by the mental health community.

Once again, we’re speaking with Mr. Gary Blankenship, President of the Houston Police Officers Union. Gary, we have so many people arrested each year it’s hard to pin it down, I can’t quite the numbers broken out, but everyday here in Houston we arrest 10, 20, 30, 50 people on the weekend, for possession of marijuana and I think that’s the area where we probably need to first redirect our efforts. He’s gone now because of his ‘impaired judgment’ over his drug use but I have a little quote I wanted to share with you from former DA Chuck Rosenthal.

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Dean Becker: Each year in the U.S. there’s about 700,000 plus people arrested for marijuana. And I know here in Houston we have thousands, if not ten or twenty thousand, arrested each year for marijuana. Is that not, I don’t know, a waste of our tax-payer dollars?

Chuck Rosenthal: No. I mean, all we do is enforce the law. And if people in Texas decide that they don’t want to make the use of marijuana against the law that’s fine with me. It doesn’t hurt my feelings at all.

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Dean Becker: You know, Gary, I hear statements like that from him and similar ones from Bradford and Lycos and it brings to mind the situation that the DA thinks it might be all right. Most of the legislators think it might be all right, except they worry about losing someone’s vote. I think probably most cops on the beat would agree that it is a waste of our time. And yet, ‘it’s not my fault, it’s his,’ and they say ‘no, it’s his,’ no one actually reaches in and says ‘let’s fix this. Let’s change this.’ Your thoughts on that scenario?

Gary Blankenship: Well, I disagree with you a little bit on the fact that most cops on the beat think that these things shouldn’t be enforced. Certainly, the school of thought is that marijuana leads to more significant addicting drugs. I don’t think that police officers on the street at all feel like it’s a waste of time, arresting people for possession of marijuana.

Dean Becker: Well, all right. I thank you for your candor, Gary. I wonder, though, how many of those officers, even others in positions in authority, have ever examined where these laws came from. You know, the opium laws came from the West Coast where they said ‘chinamen’ on opium were a threat to white women. The marijuana laws came from the South West, particularly in Texas, I think it was El Paso, where they passed the first law here, that basically wanted to lock up the Mexicans and at the time, as now, they were a threat to white men’s jobs. And of course the blacks down around New Orleans, they used cocaine and the rumor started that you couldn’t bring down a black with a .32 caliber bullet and about that time they upgraded to .38s. Of course, they’ve upgraded from that point. When PCP came on the market, you couldn’t bring those people down so you’ve got to get the 9 millimeters and the .45s after them. I’m not saying that I don’t want the law enforcement officers to have protection. What I’m saying is we’ve oversold these laws based on, if I dare say it, bigotry. Your thoughts?

Gary Blankenship: I don’t know about the bigotry issue. Certainly we don’t want people on the street who are not in possession of their faculties, whether it’s alcohol or drug related. The number of assaults on police officers are up all across the country. Police officers are having to put their hands on people more now, that’s why you see the Taser coming into the law enforcement field. And most of these people that we’re having to deal with in a violent manner, where we’re actually having to get in physical confrontations or Taser, these people are on some type of mind-altering substances.

And we don’t want that. Police officers certainly don’t want to have to get and fight with people, and when the number of assaults are up on people, we certainly can’t take a position that we ought to make these kind of substances more available to people, or make it lesser of a crime because of the things that these things push you into, like I said, increased assaults on police officers all across the country. The numbers are up. I mean, those numbers don’t lie.

Dean Becker: No, sir. And I agree with you. As I said, I want police to be able to protect themselves under all conditions. But, you mentioned earlier the fact that, you know, people using marijuana, that it leads to harder drugs. And there have been numerous studies over the years that show that that is, again, hysteria from a century ago. That it does not, in fact, some 98% of marijuana users never use any harder drugs. We have also I think suffered for that hundred years, via the fact that what leads these people, these drug users, to become more violent than say the average person, except maybe a drunk, and it is that threat, these draconian sentences that say ‘you’re going to prison. You’re going to suffer the consequences.’ It doesn’t matter if it’s a corner of a baggie or a little bit of weed. You’re going to jail and if you can’t afford a high priced lawyer, you’re going to prison. I think we could cut down on that level of violence that the police officers are subjected to if people did not have that fight or flight mentality given their circumstance, they’re being pulled over and they’ve got a little bit of drugs on them. There was a situation about two months ago, a gentleman up in the the North country, around Hempstead, was chased by numerous officers, chased out into a field, there was a bit of a disturbance, he was shot, and they did find a minor amount of drugs on the man. And again, that fight or flight response was created by his temporary possession of a minor amount of drugs. Your response, sir?

Gary Blankenship: I don’t buy off into fight or flight being a reason not to enforce the law. If a guy runs from the police he’s not only putting police officers in danger, himself, he’s also putting the citizens in danger. We’re not going to go down a road of ‘it’s OK to violate the law because you fear the threat and you may take action that’s too severe..’ That’s just not an acceptable argument to me. If someone violates the law they violate the law. And if we have to deal with it, we have to deal with it. Laxening up the laws on drugs, and again, these people aren’t in control of their faculties. They create a dangerous situation for the other citizens of our country.

Dean Becker: Again, I wasn’t meaning...let me rephrase it. What I’m trying to say is if we were to actually tax, regulate and control the distribution of these so-called ‘controlled’ substances for adults that a guy riding around with a minor amount of drugs in his pocket is not going to feel that fight or flight, is not going to endanger that law enforcement officer, but that’s down the road, that’s not something that we’re going to solve today certainly. Now, we talked about we should focus on those people at the top of this. This was a guest I had on last week, Terry Nelson, he spent 33 years working for the U.S. government as customs, border, air interdiction and he just returned from Iraq, helping with their border situation over there. Here’s what he had to say:

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Terry Nelson: You know, we talk about drug busts up here in America and what’s big and what’s not big. On the 14th of January, 2005, one of the last arrests I was involved with, my team busted 14 metric tons, which is almost 30,000 pounds of cocaine, in one bust and it didn’t make a difference in the price in the United States, so certainly, some police officer putting his life on the line, busting somebody down in some alley for a gram of coke is not going to win the war.

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Dean Becker: Your thoughts there, sir. I mean, I would much prefer that our law enforcement officers go after the big guys, they go after the violent criminals, rather than risking their lives as, Terry said, chasing down an alley over a gram.

Gary Blankenship: Well, certainly. And in law enforcement that’s in any kind of crime area, prostitution, burglary, all of that...you certainly, but you can’t just ignore the street level side of it and focus all of your enforcement efforts on the big guys. You have to go after the big guys, the guys in the middle, and the guys on the bottom. That’s just, that’s part of the game you have to play when you’re trying to stop this problem. As far as the--you know, I think, our legislature back years ago, they looked at some of these things on marijuana, certainly when I was young marijuana was, any amount of marijuana was a felony. They made some concessions at time and brought certain amounts of marijuana down to a misdemeanor for, and I think that was targeted at the user, and still leaving the severe penalties in place for the actual people that were selling it and distributing it. I don’t know that, I don’t know that it’s a good idea to pursue it any further as far as laxening these laws anymore.

Dean Becker: Well, I’ve asked this of many law enforcement officials, I just want to ask you straight up. What do you think the average officer out there on the beat would prefer? To go bust somebody for a bag of weed or somebody who’s been drinking Jack Daniels? What’s your thought?

Gary Blankenship: You know honestly, I--on the streets I think the officers on the streets I think officers would rather be putting someone in jail for the use of an illegal drug than alcohol.

Dean Becker: Well...

Gary Blankenship: We want to put both of them in jail if they’re violating the law.

Dean Becker: OK. OK. This is going to be a long discussion in this community so I will just leave that one right there. Now, what’s it been now, three weeks, four weeks ago, I had Judge Pat Lycos, she’s the Republican candidate running for District Attorney here and here’s what she had to say:

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Judge Lycos: I don’t think the drug war has been a success. I think we need to go after the money. We need to go after the bad guys. We need to go after those banks and other institutions that are laundering the money. The politicians who may aid and abet this evil trade. I see these, I see the dispensing of drugs in our minority community as sabotage and bigotry and they’ve destroyed neighborhoods.

And so that cannot go on. On the other hand, we spent nine million dollars last year sending inmates to another state when we can divert these people from the jail and put them into treatment centers. Just think of what we could do with that nine million dollars.

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Dean Becker: Nine million dollars is a lot of money, and especially in this economic era we’re in now. We’ve got to really think about what we do with our money. What do you think of Judge Lycos’ thought?

Judge Lycos: Well, I think Judge Lycos is right on some things there. There are people who qualify for drug treatment certainly. Just like I said, some of those people should be in the mental health system, some of them should be in this treatment system. That is a true statement. Again, we should focus more on cutting off the supply. Judge Lycos was right on base as far as going after the money, the banks. We, the Houston Police Department, has a money laundering detail that pursues those avenues that she was speaking of and they do a very good job at it. It’s just---there’s a lot of drugs, I think Houston is a big area for it because we’re close to the border and some of the lax things about crossing the border that we’ve had to deal with--the border security in this country’s been terrible and I think that’s caused a lot of these problems to come into Houston. And I think, she’s right, they have focused on some of the minority communities to distribute these things and it is, it’s destroying some of these communities out here and it’s a bad thing.

Dean Becker: Before the show began we were talking about the fact that according to the Sentencing Project that, the exact number in Texas, 223, 195 people in lockup, either in prison or in jail, and the disparity between black and white is about five to one on the lockup. And it is the situation with crack cocaine that has kind of led to those escalating numbers is it not?

Gary Blankenship: Oh, I agree with you one hundred percent. Crack cocaine is an evil drug and it’s ruined a lot of people’s lives and it’s caused a lot of people to end up in the criminal justice system. And it’s very prevalent in the lower income areas.

Dean Becker: You know, I’m not giving away anything that’s not really known here, I feel kind of like a snitch saying this, but the white community uses drugs at basically the same rate as does the black community. And yet because we’re sequestered in more urban settings, pick up the phone and drugs are delivered within the hour, we’re less out there on the streets, less involved with the street corner trafficking, but I guess what I’m wanting to say here, sir, is that I don’t think the blacks deserve that escalated rate because they’re not using drugs anymore so than does the white community. Your thought.

Gary Blankenship: You know, I’d have to think about that a little bit. I’m not real sure. Certainly, but when you jump out into those higher more affluent areas and you do have busts I think they’re a lot more high profile. If you’ll look, Tatum O’Neill yesterday, it’s all over the news today and I think you’re seeing a lot more of it and it’s paid attention to by the media much more when it’s in the higher, more affluent areas, the amount, the frequency of the arrests are probably a lot less than in the minority communities and in the lower income areas.

Dean Becker: Yes, sir. Once again, friends, we’ve been speaking with Mr. Gary Blankenship, Senior Police Officer, President of the Houston Police Officers Union. Gary, I want to thank you so much for coming in here. As I said, all I’ve ever wanted is to open this discussion, to begin the dialogue, because I know from that will come the necessary change, incrementally, glacially slow, but it will come. I want to thank you and I want to thank all the many officers of the Houston Police Department for the work they do in protecting this city and keeping us safe.

With that, I want to go ahead, let’s play Drug War Facts from Mr. Doug McVay:

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Doug McVay: As most listeners to the Drug Truth Network are aware, the US Office of National Drug Control Policy spends hundreds of millions of our dollars on an advertising campaign intended to prevent youth drug use -- 1.2 billion dollars between 1998 and 2004, according to the Government Accountability Office. Repeated evaluations of the ad campaign, conducted by Westat and the Annenberg School under contract to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, have shown that the ad campaign has no positive impact on rates of initiation or use by youth.

Some however may not be aware that one of the other wished-for outcomes from this expensive ad campaign is to encourage better, more involved parenting. In this area, the effect has been, well, no different actually, it's been an expensive failure. In surveys, parents claimed that they were more active and more aware because of the campaign but surveys of their children show that those claims were exaggerated.

Now, research based on analyses of the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health helps prove that failure. According to the NIDA publication Parent Awareness of Youth Use of Cigarettes, Alcohol, and Marijuana, just over 53 percent of mothers overall were aware of their children's cigarette or alcohol use, compared to about 47 percent of fathers. Only 41.1 percent of mothers and 32.5 percent of fathers were aware of their children's marijuana use.

Something I found interesting is that "Mothers in mother-child pairs within one-parent households generally had the highest rates of awareness of their child’s past year substance use, followed by mothers in mother-child pairs within two-parent households, and then fathers in father-child pairs within two-parent households.".

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

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Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. These men and women have served in the trenches of the drug war as prosecutors, judges, cops, guards and wardens. They have seen first hand the utter futility of our policy and now work together to end drug prohibition.

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Dean Becker: I guess what I wanted to share with you there, Gary, is the fact that parents seldom, less than half the time, know the kids are using drugs or even marijuana. And, I’ve heard it said, what is the reason for the drug war and it’s to protect the children. But the fact presented once they reach age 17 they just become meat for the drug war grinder. Isn’t there a better way? Do you think the Patrol Officers Union would think about this, perhaps talk to the legislators and elected officials about little nuance changes we can make?

Gary Blankenship: Every year we have a full legislative team in Austin, every other year during the legislative session, on labor issues as well as criminal justice issues. We have a very open rapport with our legislators up there and we have some really good people who do listen to our input. I think parents have to be more aggressive. You have to be sneaky, check on these kids.

Dean Becker: Eyes wide open.

Gary Blankenship: That’s right. Don’t be surprised. Nothing should surprise you if you’re a parent.

Dean Becker: I’ve heard it said that in America more than 100 million of us have used marijuana and no one’s died yet. It sure makes me wonder why we can’t think about that one a little deeper. But, anyway, sir--we’ve been talking with Mr. Gary Blankenship, President of the Houston Police Officers Union and I so much appreciate you coming in, Gary, and talking the truth about this and I guess we’re just about out of time so once again I remind you folks out there that because of prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please be careful.
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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