04/17/11 Craig Watkins

Craig Watkins, District Attorney of Dallas + Dr. Byron Pierce + DTN Host Dean Becker speak at Incarceration conference at Texas Southern Univ

Program: 
Century of Lies
Date: 
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Guest: 
Craig Watkins
Organization: 
District Attorney
Download: Audio icon COL_041711.mp3
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Century of Lies Transcript
4/17/11

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: Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies, I am Dean Becker. Recently, I attended a conference at Texas Southern University, sponsored by the Urban Learning Center. It was titled “Incarceration Patterns of African and Latino Americans”. It was a two day event. It was flanged together by Mr. Cleveland Geit and the Director of the Libraries and Museums, Dr. Obadeka Kamau. We’ll hear from Dr. Byron Price, a bit later; as well as my speech to this conference; but first, the District Attorney of Dallas County, Mr. Craig Watkins.

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CRAIG WATKINS: I saw on the program that you all want me to speak on the issue as relates to the fact that we’ve reviewed cases and made a determination that some of the individuals that have been convicted in Dallas County didn’t commit the crime.

You know, that has gotten a lot of attention for the DA’s office and for the political career that I have established over the last four years, but in reality that’s just one small piece of the progress that we are trying to make with how we dispense justice and how the justice system should work. Not only for the Dallas County District Attorney’s office, or the state of Texas, but for this country.

Now, the significance of the three graduates that are here that work in our office is very important to key in on and I’ll tell you why. When we talk about something that is so important as public safety. As Law Enforcement, we want to make sure that we have credibility; that we have buy-in from all aspects of the community that we serve. Unfortunately, in the past, we in the Law Enforcement arena didn’t have buy in, in certain communities; and that is for a reason. Let’s take a historical look at why that is.

Law Enforcement historically—for certain individuals—has not worked. Some would say that that’s a bold statement but the reality is, it is true. It actually has worked against certain individuals because of their socio-economic conditions, their religion, what they look like. Law enforcement was used to basically keep the status quo and as we have progressed as a country and as Americans. Law enforcement more times than not has stood in the way of that progression.

Now the namesake of your law school, “Thurgood Marshall,” was one of the chief proponents of progression; of making sure that we move forward and look at the law to make sure that we can implement policies that would adhere to the four corners of our constitution. He would have arguments, all the time, with Martin Luther King who was in the business of civil disobedience; let’s break the law to influence the change in the law.

Thurgood Marshall famously would say that no, let’s work within the law to make sure that we can implement changes. Together—although they had different opinions on how they should pursue a fair justice system or a fair country—at the end of the day, both of their ideologies worked.

And so, Dallas County, we get elected in 2006 and take office. One of the first things that we decided to do was to make the office look like the citizens of Dallas County, and that meant that we would put people in roles of leadership that traditionally wouldn’t hold those roles. Women, African-Americans, Hispanics would be in positions of leadership. They would be in positions to make decisions on how we would pursue justice for the citizens that elected us. And so, the three prosecutors—assistants that I brought with me—not only are they all graduates from this law school but they have the leadership roles in the DA’s office.

Our office is made up of roughly 243 attorneys; and we have a level of attorneys that’s called superchiefs. And they basically run the office they manage the day to day operation on what we do at the DA’s office. They set policy; they make a determination on how we would pursue prosecutions. Heath Harris, David Alex and Durrand Hill are all superchiefs in the DA’s office; they train lawyers under them. They set policy; they tell our community, “this is the direction that we’re gonna go in in dispensing justice for the citizens that actually elected us.”

So what does that say to the community? Over all these years, when we see that there is a segment of our society that has this distrust of law enforcement, I always refer to two issues that weigh prevalently on the way I think about public safety. The first is this issue of no snitching. A lot of folks think that that is just a phenomena of the new pop culture. A lot of rappers will say that, “we don’t snitch”. But in reality, let’s just go back several years and look at the role that law enforcement played for those communities that developed this mentality that they wouldn’t involve themselves with law enforcement. Don’t call them police, because when you do it will make it worse for you, more times than not.

Historically, if we just focus on one aspect of civil disobedience in the civil rights movement, and that dealt with law enforcement. When law enforcement would actually be used against those individuals who would basically be arguing for rights that are defended under the constitution, law enforcement would be those individuals that you would see in these pictures, in these books about lynching. They would be the ones that would implement that. And so, in reality, you can’t blame a certain segment of our community to think that law enforcement is not a good thing.

We shouldn’t believe in it because what we’ve seen in our communities is that law enforcement doesn’t work for us. When we call 911, they come when they’re ready. When we want law enforcement to come out and protect us, they may be more concerned with the victim having a traffic warrant as opposed to the guy who had been shot laying in the street and figuring out who did that. Law enforcement did that.

So, when we came in, we wanted all communities; and the reason we wanted to do this is because we would not have been successful. And we can be successful. If we don’t have buy-in for all those communities—especially those communities where crime is prevalent in the underserved communities—we want those individuals to feel comfortable when they call the police.

Understand that if a crime is being committed in your community that the DA’s office is going to take it seriously and they will pursue prosecution fairly to make sure not only that the person is punished, but at the end of the day that there is an element of rehabilitation there. So when that person comes back to our communities that they are equipped to live and survive without continuing to commit crimes.

And so, what gave us this platform? What provided this conversation that we are having with the country right now, was this little unit that we established in 2007 called the Conviction Integrity Unit. And I don’t think anyone that has been involved with it—if they tell you that we foresaw this—they would be lying to you, because we didn’t. The goal at the time was really just to take an honest look at individuals who had claimed that they were wrongfully convicted, and to fix it.

And so, as a result of taking an honest look at that in Dallas, we have been put in a position to exonerate more individuals for crimes they didn’t commit than any other place in the country.
[Applause]

And so, as we went through these cases, we started looking at these cases. We didn’t stop with just talking about wrongful convictions; we wanted to make sure that as we move forward that we wouldn’t make those same mistakes with other cases.

It was not just about one person, or two people, or the twenty-five that have been exonerated. It was about how can we improve upon law enforcement? How can we improve upon making sure that public safety works for all that are involved? And so, this small little unit started out with the idea of taking seriously claims of innocence.

But what we quickly saw was a pattern. A pattern of failed policies and failed systems that have been put in place over the years, which told us that in order for us to make all this work not only should we be focused on righting the wrongs of the past, but making sure that we implement policies and argue with our lawmakers in Austin that they need to change their approach in how we dispense justice.

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DEAN BECKER: As I said the conference was two days, featured more than a dozen panels. Kicking off the second day of the conference was Dr. Byron Price.

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DR. BYRON PRICE: When you look at the prison industry, a lot of people don’t realize that corporations own prisons. Ok, so you have the corporatization of prisons. So with that, there is a vested interest in incarceration.

What is the purpose of corporations? To maximize shareholders worth, right? That’s to make money. Now when you think about it, they call it a prison-industrial complex, but now you have a commercial-correctional complex. So, you have a lot of cottage industries developing around the prison industry. They even have trade shows, okay? Saying, “Come look at their latest wares”.

Okay, then every state has what you call a prison industry. Prison industry basically—they make products, they produce products, they manufacture products. For example, it started with the US Congress; Unicore, a federal prison industry in 1933 or ‘37 was started.

The federal government started, Congress started federal prison industries – Unicore. Where this industry was for inmates to make furniture and produce a lot of other different things. So basically, Congress started the prison industry.

Now, incarceration really has always been about profits, because before black people were manumitted only white people were incarcerated. Once blacks were free, then they invented the current prison system.

Blackman does a very outstanding job in “Slavery By Another Name;” how he shows how African-Americans was forced back into a labor bondage. Okay, say for example, there are no jobs for blacks. So you and I can’t find a job and we are just kinda loitering. So they would grab you and I and say, “well you know, you’ve committed a crime because you’re not working”.

So then as a result, Dr. Brooks would say, “Well I’ll pay your bail.” And then so we had to come work off on that farm for maybe seven years and we got so much in debt. Then they would set you up with somebody else who said, “I’m gonna buy your debt from him.” And so it went on and on and on.

So now you look at the contemporary system, you have what you call this commercial-correctional complex. It is comparable to the prison-industrial complex. I’m sorry, the military industrial complex, what President Eisenhower talked about. And, increasingly, its policy making is really about profits when you look at this commercial correctional complex, and it is driven by business, political and private interests.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that these for profit prisons and corporations they look at a community that has lost jobs and they say, well we’re gonna set a prison in this rural community. They set a prison in a rural community and they build a prison without the state’s involvement.

Because what they do is they circumvent the process. They don’t use bonds, they don’t go to the government entity and say, “why don’t you finance these with bonds?” No, they go to EF Hutton and Merrill Lynch. They go to Wall Street to get financed.

They call it back-door financing, because what actually happens is eventually those states get saddled with those facilities, although they circumvented the traditional process of going to the public to finance those bonds.

As a result of that, they set a prison and then if they don’t have prisoners say from in that state then they export prisoners, well they import prisoners rather, because they are coming in. They import prisoners.

Like prisoners from Hawaii is shipped to Texas. So that has implications for recidivism because what happens? Well I can’t visit my people. My family is probably poor and they can’t visit me, right? So when they call—a pay phone in prison makes $15,000 a day, think about that. That is one of the cottage industries I am talking about. A pay phone in prison makes $15,000 a day. That’s because there is a connection fee and then the rate is 6 times higher. All calls are collect also that originate out of the prison, so probably each inmate—if you’re talking 30 minutes, you are probably talking about a $300 telephone bill. AT&T ran an ad saying, “It’s not our business how they get in; it’s our business how they get out”. What’s inimical about that is then those facilities, of the state they cut a deal, they get a percentage of the phones.

Then you talk about jpay. How many of you heard about jpay? Anybody have any family members that are incarcerated? They have what they call jpay. Well jpay, let’s say, if I go to the commissary and I put $100 down for a guy before, then they take a percentage of that. They take a percentage of that. Then they say your toilet tissue, I mean, they just making just monies all these cottage industries developing.

Now what’s interesting. Private prisons started—well actually Houston has history, the first INS detention center which was privatized was in Houston, Texas in 1879. The Corrections Corporation of America which started in my home state in 1883; started in Nashville Tennessee.

Now, Governor Alexander who is Senator Alexander, and that’s why I am gonna talk about this commercial-correctional complex because you see it’s the same as the prison-industrial complex; because how President Eisenhower talked about these iron triangles. I don’t know if you all have ever heard of this concept of iron triangles; where you have like these interests that align to sort of block out everybody in control of the policy making process.

So, to go back to the Corrections Corporation of America. Governor Alexander, basically, wanted to privatize the entire Tennessee prison system. Why is that? His wife Honey Alexander owned stock in Corrections Corporation of America.

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DEAN BECKER: Dr. Price went on to clarify many of the ways in which justice is corrupted in the name of profit. I got a chance to speak next.

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DEAN BECKER: I want to thank you for this invitation. I consider it an honor. I speak on behalf of law enforcement against prohibition on a fairly regular basis. I’ve talked to college classes, a couple of high school classes, a lot of alliance clubs, rotary clubs, and I’ve preached from the pulpit of seven or eight churches in the Houston area as well.

I produce ten now—radio programs per week—about the harms of this Drug War. We have 93 broadcast affiliates in the US and Canada and our website is www.drugtruth.net. You can reach me through there. I would love to speak to any organization that wants to talk about this subject. Our shows provide the unvarnished truth about the Drug War.

For ten years, I have sought the most knowledgeable people on the planet to discuss this policy of eternal War. The first war ever declared forever. And it’s on the users of flowers and other plant products.

I’ve interviewed congressmen, scientists, doctors, all kinds of politicians, judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, police chiefs and priests. I’ve invested more than 20 thousand hours investigating this one subject.

And what I’ve found sickens me. It compels me to reject with my very being the concept of a Drug War. It is a scam, a feckless, endless, mindless pursuit of global success in salvation. This year, we celebrate 40 years since President Nixon declared the war on drugs. The Nixon administration created the war on drugs to quote, “Go after the blacks without appearing to do so”.

It is now 50 years since the United Nations declared their war on drugs with the belief that they would eliminate drugs from planet earth within 5 years. Barbarous drug cartels worldwide love this situation. It makes them billions of dollars per year.

Truthfully though, the war on drugs is more than 100 years old. You reach back to 1909 with the passage of the Opium Exclusion Act, the US began its war on a select few plants and people. And what happened back then is that the Opium that was in the elixir Laudanum that the white folks were drinking—nobody got busted for that—but the Chinaman who smoked the opium went to prison. That was the beginning of it.

In 1914, Cocaine was made a federal offense when politicians proclaimed that black men on Cocaine would rape white women. Or at a minimum would fail to step off the sidewalk when a white man approached.

Then in 1937 because Mexicans were taking our jobs and they might rape white women while high on Marijuana, the feds crafted the Marijuana Tax Act. Now this was later declared unconstitutional in Leary vs U.S., but it was put under the regimen of the Controlled Substances Act.

Now who is going to jail? It comes as no surprise to this audience. Its blacks, its Hispanics and then the poor whites mostly. And this is despite the fact that whites tend to use these drugs more than do the other races.

How does this continue for decades? That’s what the real question is I think we’re facing here. Is how does this continue, despite the overwhelming evidence that it’s off track? Over the lifetime of the Drug War, more than 39 million—39 million non-violent US citizens—have been arrested for these plant products in their pocket.

The US has invested over 1 Trillion dollars trying to stop the flow of these drugs. And at the same time, drug users worldwide have invested 10 Trillion dollars in purchasing these drugs. These barbarous cartels, the terrorists and the thousand U.S. gangs make more than 385 Billion dollars a year from this policy.

So what have we wrought? What benefits? What positives have we derived from maintaining this policy? And what are we likely to derive if we continue this forever? Most politicians are so ignorant as to avoid this question at any cost, but last week I spoke with former President of Mexico, Vicente Fox, and I asked him “Is there anything positive that we derive from this Drug War?” and he said, “Nothing, there is no benefit”, he closed his thought with, ”prohibition doesn’t work”.

But the United States, as we have been talking about is already the world’s leading jailer by far, by percentage or by outright numbers behind bars. We’re number one, and sadly, Texas is always battling California and Louisiana for that roll of number one. Per capita, Louisiana usually leads the way, but California despite their population—much larger than Texas—is usually beaten by us for the total number behind bars.

As reported on KHOU television a couple of years back, Houston is the world’s leading jailer; mostly for drug arrests, but many other categories as well. And why is Houston the number one in drug arrests? It’s ignorance, it’s bigotry, and it’s tradition. I think now it’s mostly tradition because the ignorance has overwhelmed most of these politicians.

In 2007, the Texas Legislature passed, and the Governor signed a bill that says it’s no longer necessary to arrest anybody for less than 4 ounces of Marijuana, and for crimes like graffiti, check writing, or other crimes that are under 500 dollars damage.

And yet, only Travis and Hayes County District Attorneys have taken advantage of this law. The rest of them continue to fill the jails up. Here, DA Likos continues to invite those arrests to fill the jails to force us to house hundreds of our prisoners in Louisiana and elsewhere at a cost of millions of dollars per year to us, and when I asked her “Why?” she said, “It creates too much paperwork” if they were not to arrest these people.

But again, this is tradition. Belief in the Drug War allows ignorance to be used as a badge. And to hell with the Constitution. Belief in Drug War encourages feigned hysteria and overblown fears which have now been used as a bludgeon.
Those who have been arrested on drug charges as Dr. Price was saying, face lifetime repercussions: an inability to find a productive job; no government loans for an education; no credit; no government housing and denial of certain professional licenses as he indicated.

But, under drug prohibition, what employers will be hiring? Of course, it is the black market and drugs. That is always out there. With a little money in hand if you wanna get back on board. It’s the world’s largest multi-level marketing association.

When aspirin and tylenol kill almost as many people as do all these hard drugs combined; when alcohol and tobacco kill well over half a million US citizens each year, by what rationality do we continue to believe in this policy? You know, we leave the sale in the hands of barbarians and criminals. That’s where the government prefers that it stay. Control substances, no way.

Before the prohibition of these drugs, a gram of pure Cocaine could be bought at the drug store for twenty-five cents. Now, you get a—the youngsters out there are buying a contaminated, often polluted, gram of Cocaine that could go over one hundred dollars per gram. Prior to the Drug War, a month’s supply of Heroin could be purchased from Sears Roebuck for a dollar and they would throw in a syringe as a bonus as well.

Back in 1900, 1 and ½ percent of us were addicted. Today after all this hoopla, 1 and ½ percent of us are addicted.

After forty years, fifty years, more than a hundred years of Drug Wars, time to face facts the Drug War is a pipe dream of men who have long since died. It has become a quasi-religion, a belief system that attracted many adherence within law enforcement and the criminal justice system to speak from ignorance, bigotry and steadfastly in support of primitive greeds, platitudes and irrational tradition.

Those who make their bones from this policy—and by God the cemetery is overflowing from their efforts—cannot now back down from their prior pronouncements. They dare not jeopardize their reputation, their legacy; by now embracing the truth that the Drug War is vacuous, hollow and a horrendous mistake. Until we face this truth, these cheerleaders for Drug War, these Drug War addicts, will continue their eternal chant their everlasting rain dance in the eye of this Drug War hurricane.

The answer to the Drug War: legalize. Stop funding Bin Laden. Gut the cartels. Eliminate most of the gangs. Let Phizer produce it and let Walgreens sell it. We’ll judge adults by their actions like it used to be, instead of by the contents of the baggies in their pocket. We’ll then have lots of room in prison for anybody who would dare sell drugs to our children.

I am not for gradual change to the drug laws quoting Martin Luther King Jr., “Gradualism is so often an excuse for Escapism and Do Nothingism, which ends up in Standstillism”.

The Drug War is an abomination and it must be ended.

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DEAN BECKER: Following my presentation, Mr. Carl Veely of the Drug Policy Forum of Texas gave a PowerPoint presentation which was well received by the audience and led to us being invited to another conference in May, and Carl was asked to make five flash drive copies of his presentation for those in attendance. Sadly, Carl didn’t use the microphone so I couldn’t share his statements with you at this time.

Close once again with the thought that there is no truth, justice, logic, no reason for this Drug War to exist. We have indeed been duped. Please do your part to end the madness. Visit our website www.endprohibition.org .

Prohibido esta que valesco.

For the Drug War network this is Dean Becker asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition. “The Century of Lies” a show produced at the Pacifica Studios of KPFT Houston.