01/02/11 - Michelle Alexander

Century of Lies

Top 10 Intl. Drug Stores of 2010, courtesy Phil Smith reporter for Stop The Drug War + recap with Michelle Alexander author of The New Jim Crow - Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Audio file


Century of Lies / January 02, 2011


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.


Welcome to this first edition of Century of Lies in the year 2011. We’re going to take a listen back to a bit of the year 2010, especially.

I want you to hear an interview I did with Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

And courtesy of the stopthedrugwar.org we’re going to hear the Top 10 bas compiled by Mister Phil Smith, but first, we’re going to hear from Michelle Alexander.


Michelle Alexander: You know, within a relatively short period of time, we went from a prison population of 300,000 to now, nearly 2,500,000 in the space of just a few decades. Our prison population quintupled. Not doubled or tripled – quintupled!

This exponential increase in the size of our prison system was not due to crime rates, as is so often believed and is told to us frequently by politicians and media pundits. Rather than crime rates, the explosion of our prison population has been due, largely to the Drug War.

A war that has been waged largely in poor communities of color, even though studies have now shown, for decades, that people of color are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than Whites. People of all races and ethnicities use and sell legal and illegal drugs in the United States.

It has been primarily and overwhelmingly poor people of color in the United States who have been stopped, searched, arrested and incarcerated for drug offenses. Once you’re branded a drug felon, you’re relegated to a permanent second-class status.

Once labeled a felon, you may be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education and public benefits.

So many of the old forms of discrimination that we supposedly left behind during the “Jim Crow” era are suddenly legal again. Once you’ve been branded a felon and it’s the Drug War primarily, that is responsible for the return of millions of African Americans to a permanent second-class status, analogous in many ways to “Jim Crow.”

I devote a whole chapter in the book to the shredding of the Fourth Amendment in the Drug War. Once upon a time, it used to be the case that law enforcement officials had to have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and a reasonable belief that someone was actually dangerous before they could stop them or frisk them on the street, on the sidewalk or stop and search their car.

Today, thanks to a series of decisions by the US Supreme Court, as long as police can “get” consent from an individual, they can stop and search them for any reason or no reason at all. Giving the police license to fan out into neighborhoods and stop and search just about anyone, anywhere.

Consent is a very easy thing to obtain. If a law enforcement officer approaches you with his hand on his gun and says, “May I search your bag? Will you put your hands up in the air and turn around so I may search you?” and you comply, that’s interpreted as consent.

But of course, it’s precisely that kind of discriminatory and arbitrary police action that led the framers of the Constitution to adopt the Fourth Amendment prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures.

Today, law enforcement feels free to stop and search just about anyone, anywhere they please and they know very well that almost no one will refuse consent to a search especially in a poor communities of color where people have been trained and disciplined that resisting police authority can lead to violence.

Dean Becker: We are speaking with Michelle Alexander she’s author of a great new book that I highly recommend, The New Jim Crow - Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Michelle, it’s a wonderful book and I want to read a portion of a page here:

“With no means to pay off their debts back in the ‘Jim Crow’ days, prisoners were sold as forced labor to lumber camps to brick yards, railroads, etc. Death rates were shockingly high, for the contractors had no interest in the health or wellbeing of their laborers”.

We have a very similar situation that has developed in America now where people work for pennies on the dollar. Thus earning great profits for prison guards unions and others that are in effect “contractors” here. Your thoughts on that, please?

Michelle Alexander: Well, yes, you know, a number of things. First, many people have no conception of how extraordinarily difficult it is for people once they are released for prison to “reintegrate” into mainstream society.

Not only may they be denied the right to vote and not only are they ineligible for jury service for the rest of their lives and if they’ve been branded a felon but employment discrimination is perfectly legal against them.

Every time they’ve got that employment application, you got to check that box, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” It doesn’t matter if that felony happened last week or thirty-five years ago, for the rest of your life you have to check that box. Knowing full well that the odds are that application is going in the trash once that box has been checked.

Housing discrimination is perfectly legal against those branded felons. Public housing is off limits to people released from prison for a minimum of five years and regulations encourage public housing agencies to discriminate against formerly incarcerated people for the rest of their lives.

Even food stamps are off limits to people who have been convicted of drug felonies. People with HIV/AIDS and pregnant woman, aren’t even entitled to food stamps for the rest of their lives, no matter how sick or hungry they may be.

The kicker here is that people released from prison are often saddled with thousands, hundreds or thousands of dollars in fees, fines, court costs and accumulated back child support. You know, in some states, a growing number of states you’re expected to pay back the cost of your imprisonment, once you’re released.

Up to 100% of your wages can be garnished to pay back all of these fees, fines and accumulated back child support. You know back during the days of convict leasing, there was a system where African Americans were arrested for minor offenses, like loitering. They were arrested, imprisoned and then leased back to plantations where they were forced to work for little or no pay.

Well, you know today, we have a similar system where African Americans are arrested for extremely minor nonviolent, drug related offenses. Arrested en masse and sent to prison where they are often forced to work for little or no pay for either private companies or their imprisonment itself.

It enriches prison guard unions and private prison companies and then once they’re released. If they’re lucky enough to get a job 100% of their wages can be garnished, resulting in what? Them unable to survive, to make it a legal economy and they are returned to right back to prison.

In fact about 70% of people released from prison return within three years and a majority of those who return, do so in a matter of months because the challenges associated with mere survival after being branded a felon are so immense.

Dean Becker: Michelle, you know it used to be America was the Land of Second Chances that a person could always start again, perhaps, prosper, but you’re right.

It has been stacked very definitely against the potential of making that second chance, especially for those convicted of drug crimes, that as you say, have to jump through so many hoops, pay so many fees and yet they just can’t seem to prosper. That black market is always out there, enticing people to come back to work for them, is it not?

Michelle Alexander: Yes, absolutely, you know, well that’s the thing. Many people say, “Well, people who commit drug offenses, particularly those who sell drugs, well they’re making a choice to violate the law and so they deserve whatever they get.”

Well, first of all, most of us, most people in the United States, you know I’d venture to say mostly all, have violated the law at some point in their lives. Most of us have broken the law, either by experimenting with illegal drugs, using illegal drugs at some point in our lives or have violated a law by speeding on the freeway, which certainly possess more risk to human life and potential harm than smoking marijuana in the privacy of one’s home.

All of us have broken the law, all of us have made mistakes but it’s poor folks of color primarily, who are asked to basically forfeit their lives for the youthful mistakes or indiscretions, mistakes of judgment that they make relatively minor, non-violent drug offences.

It’s youth of color in these inner city schools that have their school swept for drugs and have drug sniffing dogs brought to sniff all their schools’ lockers. They are stopped and frisked while waiting for the school buses.

This Drug War has resulted in the branding of young people, before they even have the opportunity to reach a voting age, as criminals and felons for engaging in precisely the same kind of illegal drug activity that is largely ignored on college campuses, universities and middle class white communities.

So, back during the “Jim Crow” era, you know, literacy tests and poll taxes were facially race neutral. Poll taxes and literacy tests operated to keep African Americans away from the polls. On their face, they appeared race neutral. They said nothing about race, but the laws were forced in such a racially discriminatory manner that they operated to create a caste system.

Well, the same is much true with drug laws in the United States today. On their face, they appear race neutral but the way they’re enforced is so grossly discriminatory. In fact, in some states, African Americans have constituted 80-90% of all drug offenders sent to prison. Even though we know that people of color aren’t any more likely to violate our nation’s drug laws.


Dean Becker: Once again that was Michelle Alexander author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. You can hear the full interview by tuning into drugtruth.net and the Century of Lies show for June 25th in 2010.


Now, as promised the Top 10 International Drug Policy Stories from drugwar.org and their fine reporter, Mister Phil Smith.

This year saw continued turmoil, agitation, and evolution on the international drug policy front. While we don't have the space to cover all the developments – the expansion of medical marijuana access in Israel, the rise of Portugal as a drug reform model, the slow spread of harm reduction practices across Eurasia – here are what we see as the most significant international drug policy developments of the year.

Mexico's ongoing tragedy is exhibit number one in the failure of global drug prohibition. This month, the official death toll since President Felipe Calderón deployed the military against the so-called cartels in December 2006 passed 30,000, with 10,000 killed this year alone.

The multi-sided conflict pits the cartels against each other, cartel factions against each other, cartels against law enforcement and the military, and, at times, elements of the military and different levels of law enforcement against each other.

The US has spent $1.2 billion of Plan Merida funds, mainly beefing up the police and the military, and appropriated another $600 million this summer, much of it to send more lawmen, prosecutors, and National Guard units to the border.

None of it seems to make much difference in the supply of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine coming over (under, around, and through) the border, but the horrific violence of Mexico's drug war is eroding public confidence in the state and its ability to exercise one of its essential functions: maintaining order.

The slow-motion disaster has spurred talk of legalization in Mexico – and beyond – but there is little chance of any real movement toward that solution anytime in the near future. In the meantime, Mexico bleeds for our sins.


The critique of the international drug policy status quo that has been growing louder and louder for the past decade or so turned into a roar in 2010. Impelled in part by the ongoing crisis in Mexico and in part by a more generalized disdain for failed Drug War policies, calls for radical reform came fast and furious, and from some unexpected corners this year.

In January, the former French Polynesian President Oscar Temaru, called for Tahiti to legalize marijuana and sell it to European tourists to provide jobs for unemployed youth.

Three months later, members of the ruling party of another island nation spoke out for reform. In traditionally tough on drugs Bermuda, leading Progressive Labor Party members called for decriminalization.

In February, an international conference of political figures, academics, social scientists, security experts, and activists in Mexico City called prohibition in Mexico a disaster and urged drug policies based on prevention, scientific evidence, and respect for human life.

By August, as the wave of violence sweeping Mexico grew ever more threatening, President Felipe Calderón opened the door to a discussion of drug legalization, and although he quickly tried to slam it shut, former President Vicente Fox quickly jumped in to call for the legalization of the production, distribution, and sale of drugs. "Radical prohibition strategies have never worked," he said.

That inspired Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to say that he supported the call for a debate on legalization. The situation in Mexico also inspired two leading Spanish political figures, former Prime Minister Felipe Gonzales and former Drug Czar Araceli Manjon-Cabeza to call for an end to drug prohibition in the fall.

Midsummer saw the emergence of the Vienna Declaration, an official conference declaration of the World AIDS Conference, which called for evidence-based policy making and the decriminalization of drug use.

The declaration has garnered thousands of signatures and endorsements, including the endorsements of three former Latin American presidents, Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, and Cesar Gaviria of Colombia. It has also picked up the support of public health organizations and municipalities worldwide, including the city of Vancouver.

Great Britain has also been a locus of drug war criticism this year, beginning with continuing resignations from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Several members of the official body had quit late last year in the wake of the firing of Professor David Nutt as ACMD, after he criticized government decisions to reschedule cannabis and not to down-schedule ecstasy. In April, two more ACMD members resigned, this time in response to the government's ignoring their recommendations and banning mephedrone.

The revolt continued in August, when the former head of Britain's Royal College of Physicians joined the growing chorus calling for radical reforms of the country's drug laws.

Sir Ian Gilmore said the government should consider decriminalizing drug possession because prohibition neither reduced crime nor improved health. That came just three weeks after Nicholas Green, chairman of the Bar Council (the British equivalent of the ABA), called for decriminalization.

The following month, Britain's leading cannabis scientist, Roger Pertwee called for cannabis to be legalized and regulated like alcohol and tobacco, and the chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officer's drug committee said marijuana should be decriminalized.

Chief Constable Tim Hollis said decriminalization would allow police to concentrate on more serious crime. The following day, the Liberal Democrats, junior partners in a coalition government with the Conservatives, were lambasted by one of their own. Ewan Hoyle called for a rational debate on drug policy and scolded the party for remaining silent on the issue.

And just this past week, former Blair administration Home Office drug minister and defense minister Bob Ainsworth called for the legalization of all illicit drugs, including cocaine and heroin.

From Mexico to Great Britain, Vancouver to Vienna, not to mention from Tahiti to Bermuda, the clamor for drug legalization has clearly grown in volume in 2010.


More than nine years after the US invaded Afghanistan in a bid to decapitate Al Qaeda and punish the Taliban, the US and NATO occupation drags bloodily on. This year has been the deadliest so far for Western occupiers, with 697 US and NATO troops killed as of December 20th.

And while the US war machine is fueled by a seemingly endless supply of borrowed cash -- another $160 billion was just authorized for the coming year -- the Taliban runs to a large degree on profits from the opium and heroin trade.

In a Faustian bargain, the West has found itself forced to accept widespread opium production as the price of keeping the peasantry out of Taliban ranks while at the same time acknowledging that the profits from the poppies end up as shiny new weapons used to kill Western soldiers and their Afghan allies.

The Afghan poppy crop was down this year, not because of successful eradication programs, but because a fungus blighted much of the crop. But even that is not good news: The poppy shortage means prices will rebound and more farmers will plant next year.

The West could buy up the entire poppy crop for less than what the US spends in a week to prosecute this war, but it has so far rejected that option.


Holland's three-decade long experiment with tolerated marijuana sales at the country's famous coffee shops is probable not going to end under the current conservative government, but it is under pressure.

The number of coffee shops operating in the country has dropped by about half from its peak, local governments are putting the squeeze on them via measures such as distance restrictions (must be so far from a school, etc.) and the national government is about to unveil a plan to effectively bar foreigners from the shops.

The way for that was cleared this month when the European Court of Justice ruled that such a ban did not violate European Union guarantees of freedom of travel and equality under the law within the EU because what the coffee shops sell is an illegal product that promotes drug use and public disorder.

Whether the "weed pass" system contemplated by opponents of "drug tourism" will come to pass nationwide remains to be seen, but it appears the famous Dutch tolerance is eroding, especially when it comes to foreigners.

Do the Dutch really think most people go there just to visit the windmills and the Rijksmuseum?


In September, there was a changing of the guard at the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), one of the key bureaucratic power centers for the global drug prohibition regime. Outgoing UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa, a former Italian prosecutor, was replaced by veteran Russian diplomat Yury Fedotov.

Given Russia's dismal record on drug policy, especially around human rights issues, the treatment of hard drug users, and HIV/AIDS prevention, as well as the Russian government's insistence that the West resort to opium eradication in Afghanistan (Russia is in the throes of a heroin epidemic based on cheap Afghan smack), the international drug reform community looked askance at Fedotov's appointment.

But the diplomat's first missive as ONDCP head talked of drug dependence as a disease, not something to be punished, and emphasized a concern with public health and human rights.

Fedotov has shown he can talk the talk, but whether he will walk the walk remains to be seen.


Coca production is ongoing, if down slightly, in the Andes, after more than a quarter century of US efforts to wipe it out. Plan Colombia continues to be funded, although at declining levels, and aerial and manual eradication continues there.

That, and a boom in coca growing in Peru, have led to Peru's arguably retaking first place in coca production from Colombia, but have also led to increased conflict between Peruvian coca growers and a hostile national government.

And remnants of the Shining Path have appointed themselves protectors of the trade in several Peruvian coca producing regions. They have clashed repeatedly with Peruvian police, military, and coca eradicators.

Meanwhile, Bolivia, the world's number three coca producer continues to be governed by former coca grower union leader Evo Morales, who has allowed a limited increase in coca leaf production.

That's enough to upset the US, but not enough to satisfy Bolivian coca growers, who this fall forced Evo's government to repeal a law limiting coca leaf sales.


Canada under the Conservatives continues to disappoint. When the Liberals held power in the early part of this decade, Canada was something of a drug reform beacon, even if the Liberals could never quite get around to passing their own marijuana decriminalization bill while in power.

They supported Vancouver's safe injection site and embraced harm reduction policies. But under the government of Prime Minister Steven Harper, Canada this year fought and lost (again) to shut down the safe injection site.

Harper's justice minister, Rob Nicholson, in May signed extradition papers allowing "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery to fall into the clutches of the Americans, in whose gulag he now resides for the next four years for selling pot seeds.

And while Harper's dismissal of parliament in January killed the government's bill to introduced mandatory minimum sentences for a number of offenses, including growing as few as five pot plants, his government reintroduced the bill this fall. It just passed the Senate, but needs to win approval in the House of Commons.

The Conservatives won't be able to pass it by themselves there, so the question now becomes whether the Liberals will have the gumption to stand against it.

This as polls consistently show a majority of Canadians favoring marijuana legalization.


When in doubt, prohibit. That would seem to be the mantra in Europe, where, confronted by the emergence of mephedrone, a synthetic stimulant derived from cathinone, the active ingredient in the khat plant, first Britain and then the entire European Union responded by banning it.

Described as having effects similar to cocaine or ecstasy, mephedrone emerged in the English club scene in the past 18 months, generating hysterical tabloid press accounts of its alleged dangers.

When two young people supposedly died of mephedrone earlier this year, the British government ignored the advice of its Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which called for it to be a Schedule B drug, and banned it.

Poland followed suit in September, shutting down shops that sold the drug and claiming the power to pull from the shelves any product that could be harmful to life or health.

And just this month, after misrepresenting a study by the European Monitoring Center on Drugs and Drug Addiction, the EU instituted a continent-wide ban on mephedrone. Meet the newest entrant into the black market.


Heroin maintenance continues its slow spread in Europe. In March, Denmark became the latest country to embrace heroin maintenance. The Danes thus join Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and, to a lesser degree, Britain, in the heroin maintenance club.

In June, British scientists rolled out a study showing heroin maintenance worked and urging the expansion of limited existing programs there. The following month, a blue-ribbon Norwegian committee called for heroin prescription trials and other harm reduction measures there.

Research reports on heron maintenance programs have shown they reduce criminality among participants, decrease the chaos in their lives, and make them more amenable to integration into society.


Okay, it never really went away in Laos, Burma, and Thailand, and it is still below its levels of the mid-1990s, but opium planting has been on the increase for the last four years in the Golden Triangle.

Production has nearly doubled in Burma since 2006 to more than 38,000 hectares, while in Laos, production has more than doubled since 2007. The UNODC values the crop this year at more than $200 million, more than double the estimate of last year's crop.

Part of the increase is attributable to increased planting, but part is accounted for by rising prices. While Southeast Asian opium production still trails far behind that in Afghanistan, opium is back with a vengeance in the Golden Triangle.


Alright that was produced by Mister Phil Smith with Stop the Drug War. You can check it out on-line at stopthedrugwar.org.


Alright, I hope you enjoyed this edition of Century of Lies and that you’ll tune into to this week’s Cultural Baggage to hear the Top 10 Domestic Stories, as complied by Mister Phil Smith and stopthedrugwar.org.

Mostly, I hope you’ll take the education that you have derived from listening to the Drug Truth Network and that you’ll pick up the gauntlet and you’ll stand up and speak up and you’ll do something to end the madness of Drug War.

As always, I remind you that there’s no truth, justice, logic, scientific fact, no reason for the Drug War to exist. We have, in fact, been duped!

Please do your part to end the madness.

Please, 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 Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

Drug Truth Network programs, archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.

Transcript provided by: Ayn Morgan of www.eigengraupress.com