11/27/11 Dane Schiller

Century of Lies

Dane Schiller, reporter for the Houston Chronicle re escalation of drug war in US + Radley Balko opinion in HuffPo + Neal Pearce of Wash Post re Senate fillibuster of criminal justice

Audio file


Century of Lies / November 27, 2011


DEAN BECKER: The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.


DEAN BECKER: Hello my friends. Thank you for joining us on this edition of Century of Lies. We have with us, in studio, a reporter from the Houston Chronicle, Mr. Dane Schiller. How are you, Dane?

DANE SCHILLER: Fine, thanks for having me here.

DEAN BECKER: Well, Dane, as always you’ve been busy. You report on the criminal justice system, the gangs, the cartels, all that sort of stuff. Am I right?

DANE SCHILLER: That’s it and it’s been crazy lately.

DEAN BECKER: Hasn’t it though?! Now, the story that caught my attention and got me to phone you… you’ve had a couple others we’ll talk about as well, but, the one that made some national headlines, “Zeta soldiers launched Mexico-style attack in Harris County”, right.

DANE SCHILLER: That was it.

DEAN BECKER: Now, this is rare. I don’t know if it’s the first such instance that’s been so framed here in the United States but it’s scary, isn’t it?

DANE SCHILLER: Sure. It reads to me like something out of Mexico.

DEAN BECKER: The situation in Mexico…I just got done talking with Beto O'Rourke & Susie Byrd, the current and former counselors down there…has become really atrocious – the situation in Ciudad Juarez, their sister city. But the truth of the matter is that El Paso is one of the safest cities in America and I always thought that there was a reason for that – that the cartels didn’t want the U.S. responding to them here in these United States for war-like activity – but the fact of the matter is that it is starting to spill into this country, right?

DANE SCHILLER: Well certainly it’s not spilling into the United States to the degree that it’s saturated Mexico but it’s undeniable that they’re here – meaning the cartels are here and they’re doing business. They’re doing it a little differently than Mexico but this latest attack, for example, when a convoy tried to hit the tanker trailer hauling dope through Houston, and the shoot-out and hundred officers responding, and a guy getting “Bonnie and Clyde’d” in the truck cab…fascinating.

DEAN BECKER: And the fact of the matter is it wasn’t an enormous amount of dope…not a very significant cost amount. It was 300 pounds which would make you $100, 000, maybe, but it’s not going to swing the cat – so to speak.

DANE SCHILLER: Well that adds to the mystery. Why would they do something so bold for just 300 pounds?! Perhaps, within their organization, they thought there was going to be much more dope on this truck and somebody…something doesn’t smell right – let’s send up a little less. These guys didn’t get the word. Perhaps there’s something else at play there.

If they knew that something was up – why on earth would they attack a truck that was virtually being escorted by law enforcement, undercover law enforcement, escorted through Harris County?!

DEAN BECKER: I wonder about the origin of that shipment - about how this gentleman became a confidential informant…if he was busted at the border and swayed into delivering it in exchange for a better sentence or something.

DANE SCHILLER: We don’t know a lot about him. I know that he’s been working as a trucker for many years. I think he’s been a confidential informant before. Had a decent repoire with law enforcement officers he was working for. But, I don’t know that for sure. It could have been that they busted him and said, “Now you’re going to work for us.”

DEAN BECKER: Well you’ve been talking to folks here in Houston. The cops said something, “We’re not going to tolerate these types of thugs out there using their weapons like the wild, wild west.” - this according to the head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Houston division. Can they really make a difference or just following after the fact?

DANE SCHILLER: I think they can make a difference. They can’t stop from coming through here but they can tell these guys to crawl back under their rocks. I think it’s interesting that they quickly charged 4 of them with capital murder. Others were arrested. We took photographs of them at the scene and those aren’t the same gentlemen charged with capital murder. There’s other people out there as well that are in the hands of authorities. I think there just squeezing saying, “We’re not going to tolerate this here.”

DEAN BECKER: Well, and again, I think even the cartel bosses probably would object to what happened. Because, like I said, the situation was too like Juarez and El Paso - the deadliest city in the world and one of the safest cities in the world. I think the cartels want to keep it that way where the U.S. authorities are not so enraged. Your response.

DANE SCHILLER: Sure. They don’t want to put it in their face to where they have to do something. Home invasions and that sort of thing have been going on for quite a while and I think they’ve been able to get away with that. But when you start talking about a convoy of soldiers attacking a tanker truck in broad daylight rolling down the road – that’s crossing the line, I think.

DEAN BECKER: Well you mentioned home invasions and that was one of your next stories in the Houston Chronicle was, “Tension follows home invasions by masked attackers.” That was you and James Pinkerton there and that’s not rare at all. That happens every week, does it not?

DANE SCHILLER: It happens all the time and we usually don’t hear about it because nobody’s going to call the cops. If you’re a trafficker and you get busted and they take $200,000 of your money or they take 30 kilos from you – you’re not going to call. The only way we find out is if somebody’s shot.

And when you say, “Why are the cartels really in Houston?” This is how they’re here. They have their stash houses - some for money, some for drugs, some for guns – and they’re right here. And these, often or not, are in your “bad neighborhoods”.

DEAN BECKER: I would think, yeah, they’d prefer a better neighborhood just for the lack of incongruity or something, right?


DEAN BECKER: The situation here in Houston is, I guess, exemplary really, of Atlanta and other major hub cities, if you will, where the shipments are filtered through. I guess the question becomes, “What can we do? What should we do?”

Your editorial board back in June of this year stood very much in support of the Global Commission on Drug Policy. They’re recommending that we, at least, open this can of worms. That we delve into this issue. They’re maybe not recommending outright legalization but they think it’s time to do something. Right?

DANE SCHILLER: I think anybody would agree that it’s time to reevaluate what’s going on – what’s working, what’s not. Clearly no drugs have been stopped from coming into this country and clearly the violence is increasing so what have you accomplished?

DEAN BECKER: My guest on the last show was talking about her children, middle and high-school, talking about the easy availability of drugs and, as I understand, in prison it’s relativatly easy as well so I guess the question becomes if we can’t stop drugs from entering our schools or our prisons – what have we actually done, right?!

DANE SCHILLER: Good question. A lot of people in prison, a lot of people making good money…I think that people in law enforcement will say that we’ve got to do something – we can’t just surrender and say we’re not going to enforce these laws. As long as the laws are there they’re going to say, “We’ve got our badge. We’ve got our gun. We’ve taken our oath and we must enforce them.”

But they might look up over their shoulder and say, “Hey, lawmakers, is this really what you want us doing?!”

DEAN BECKER: I have reports going out on the 420s this week talking about the Radley Balko writing for the Huffington Post talking about the fact that Senator Webb had put forward a bill to investigate our criminal justice system here in these United States from the feds on down to the state and local and it was the prosecutors who stood up and insisted…I think it was 45 senators voted against it at the insistence of the prosecutors’ union and the reason given was that it would take money away that ought to go to the prosecutors but at the heart of it that it was that the prosecutors did not want to be investigated. They did not want the feds peering into their criminal justice system.

It brings to mind, in Texas, you know we have laws that say you don’t have to arrest or jail anybody for marijuana and yet, I don’t know, out of 130 counties, only 1 district attorney has taken advantage of it. All the other district attorneys and sheriffs continue to arrest people, cramming our jails full. It’s a belief in a system that, I guess, has lost its way. That the majority of American people say, you know, legalize it.

So, your response. Dane Schiller, of the Houston Chronicle, what has been your observation talking to these heads of the DEA or others…are they just focused so tightly they can’t see what’s really happening?

DANE SCHILLER: They know what’s happening. They know absolutely what’s happening. Some of them will say privately, “Well, I could perhaps live with them legalizing weed. The other stuff – no way.”

But we’ve really got to think about what’s happening. Is it really worth it? And I think you’ll see, in some instances, they don’t really pat themselves on the back or you don’t get the medal when you’re making a bust of a bunch of marijuana because it’s kind of, well, is it that big of a deal anymore?!

DEAN BECKER: Right, and I think that’s the case that it’s kind of like rote – just doing what’s been done before. It’s one step after the other but the truth of the matter is very few people can stand forth…actually, I don’t think there’s anybody who can stand forth for this policy – only for the hope of what it might achieve but it has never managed to achieve any of its stated goals.

DANE SCHILLER: I know you talk about this all the time and I really wish we could jump forward in time – 50 or 100 years – and look at what they’re going to say about what we’re doing now. Such as we look back to the Al Capone days and say, “Look at what they were doing!”

I really wonder how this is going to get put into the history books.

DEAN BECKER: I think there’s going to be a whole host of politicians that are going to look pretty silly and have egg about a mile think on their face for having believed in this for so long.

DANE SCHILLER: I hope it will also include that people here and now were saying, “Is this what we really want to do?!” Are we looking behind the curtain here? Hopefully it will include all of that. But I just wonder, 50 years from now, what’s going to be in the books.

DEAN BECKER: I think that’s the case, you know, the Houston Chronicle has been very bold in their editorial boards and their reporting. The one thing I wish you guys might do is just leave out that drug-related and put in prohibition-related because I think it’s a lot more pertinent but the Washington Post was talking about more than 20 bodies discovered Thursday in vehicles abandoned in the heart of Guadalajara and the folks I was talking to in El Paso said, “Yeah, in Ciudad Juarez it’s calmed down a bit but it’s moved to other cities…Guadalajara, Monterey, Mexico City and the resort cities as well.”

DANE SCHILLER: Traveling circus of horrors. It goes one city, another city then, move over here, move over there. The brutality, what they’re doing is far worse than what we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. I look at what’s going on in Mexico and I say, “My god! 20 dead. 30 dead. 50 dead.” You don’t see those kind of numbers and you don’t see that many bodies chopped up, quartered, beheaded, etc. in the “war zones.”

DEAN BECKER: The fact of the matter is, you know, we’ve almost become immune to it and that’s something I fear too is that the number of deaths mean nothing. We’re approaching 50,000 dead in Mexico and it doesn’t seem to mean anything to…I don’t expect the pot smokers to quit smoking but I do expect these politicians to open their eyes.

DANE SCHILLER: I was talking to a man today from Veracruz, Mexico and I said, “What would you do? What would you do if you were in charge?”

He said, “Mexico needs to…” He’ll be blunt. He says, “We need a revolution. We need communities to take the law into their own hands. We need for them to say, ‘We can’t trust our army. We can‘t trust our police.’ Now we’re going to be in charge. We know who belongs here and who doesn’t and we need to tell the cartels and the gangsters to get out of here.”

And I know it sounds radical for us but our country is not going through Hell like their country. There’s truly not a rule of law and nobody sees a way out.

DEAN BECKER: I understand that the murder rate there…the solution to those murders is miniscule…it’s 1%, it’s 5%...it’s very few of these murders ever get solved.

DANE SCHILLER: Freebies. You can get away with it. Someone the other day, showing some gallows humor said that if you want to kill your mother-in-law just handcuff her, shoot her and throw her in the street. It’ll look like a gangland hit.

I know it’s horrible to say that but the point is everything in Mexico is being written off as a gangland hit therefor they don’t solve it. I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of those murders are gangland hits but authorities have thrown in the towel. I guess the most bored person in Mexico is a homicide investigator because they’re not going to look into anything. Not if they want to live.

DEAN BECKER: Isn’t that the truth! Once again we’re speaking with Mr. Dane Schiller, a reporter at the Houston Chronicle. I think about the situation here with the law enforcement. Another report came out this week talking about in New York City that the solution of murders, rapes and robberies has been going down as they say the number of rapes and robberies has been going down. But, at the same time, the number of marijuana arrests has climbed astronomically.

I guess what I’m saying is they were focusing on the “easy to solve” crimes and less so on the more tedious solutions like murder and rape. And I guess what I’m trying to say here is it seems the police want to look good by solving the number of violent crimes they deal with but they were talking in New York that often times people are told, “We won’t have time for that. It’s not serious enough.”

I guess I’m leading to here is that police want to look good. They want to do their job. They want to be recognized as doing their job but the drug crimes compared to these other more violent crimes are just a whole lot easier to find and deal with and bust and look good. Your response to that.

DANE SCHILLER: Well we all want to look good at what we do. And we all want to know by what criteria are we evaluated to keep our job. I think there’s no doubt there’s a lot of cops out there that are busting their butt and putting their lives on the line and really going for it to make this happen.

DEAN BECKER: The other story that came out the other day you had written dealt with a gentleman who was found dead in a Houston jail. This is, again, not a rarity around here. It doesn’t happen every day, of course, but it happens enough that you wonder what happens to these people from a visit to the hospital and a few hours later being found dead. Have you learned anything else on that?

DANE SCHILLER: I spoke with the stepfather who said the family is just destroyed about this. His mother was especially torn up. He said, “Look, he struggled with addiction. It had been behind him for a couple years and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he had scored something and took it.”

In fact he supposedly told the jailers or the police, “I took something. It wasn’t just alcohol.” They took him over to the hospital either for a blood draw to see what was in his system or whatever it was. Then approximately 4 hours later he’s found dead in his cell. A cell where he was by himself. No signs of trauma. His stepfather says, “He’s arrested at 5:30 in the afternoon, he’s drunk. You take him to the hospital, check his blood, etc. and he’s out of the hospital by 9. And then nearly 4 hours later you find him dead in his cell. Something along the way just isn’t right.“

What happened? He’s not accusing anyone of any wrongdoing. He’s not accusing anyone of any right- doing. He just saying explain this to us.

DEAN BECKER: As so often happens the answer isn’t forthcoming. Here in Harris County, in general, it just doesn’t happen that often that these deaths are explained.

DANE SCHILLER: People are going to say the drug user died of using drugs. Next, it’s cold, it’s not a good way to do business. It doesn’t give us any answers. It doesn’t do a good watchdog of what our government does when it has people in custody but I’ve already heard that from some folks.

DEAN BECKER: You see it on all the TV shows, “Well, he’s better off dead.” That’s often what’s ascribed for a person who has used drugs whether they used them this year or this decade. Drug user is kind of a lifelong label. All too often it prevents people from getting jobs, housing, education, etc.

DANE SCHILLER: If he’s been abusing them he’s probably got quite a sad story. He’s probably had a lot of struggles in his life and we’ll never know about all of them but I’m sure it’s just real sad.

DEAN BECKER: One other story I was looking at here. The Mexican activists have asked the International Criminal court to investigate President Felipe Calderon as well as top officials and the country’s most-wanted drug trafficker accusing them to allow subordinates to kill, torture and kidnap civilian. This is out of the Guardian a couple days ago.

The story goes on to say that it’s probably not going anywhere but it just brings to mind the fact that more and more people are challenging the logic, the concept, the momentum of this drug war.

DANE SCHILLER: Down there in Mexico can you imagine what’s going on?! We in the United States like to believe that we have the best trained military on the planet. We know if we unleash them into our own population there would be all kinds of rights’ abuses. We know that they are not police. We know that they are not properly trained, as a whole, to detain, question and arrest civilians.

So that’s going on all over Mexico times ten – turbo button. We can hardly imagine the abuses. It’s absolute that abuses are taking place. It’s also absolute that some of those guys are doing a great job and they’re getting rid of some evil folks. But we’ll never know what all has gone on in streets and alleys and people’s homes, in jail cells, in military detention centers.

DEAN BECKER: This is the kind of thing that we know that we have those kind of forces here in the U.S. that are wanting to take away more rights, wanting to stifle our freedoms in the name of security. A lot of folks fighting against that, of course. I guess that’s going to be an eternal battle really. Some people want to control their fellow man more so than others.

Once again we’ve been speaking with Mr. Dane Schiller. He’s a reporter with the Houston Chronicle. Dane we got about a minute left here. I want to kind of turn it over to you. What’s in the hopper? What do you have for us next?

DANE SCHILLER: We’ll see what happens this coming week but among the stories I’m looking at is one in which some people who are very much involved in the Hip Hop movement at an intersection with people coming directly out of the Mexican cartels and were moving significant amounts of drugs through and out throughout the southern United States. It involves some murder, perhaps some corruption. Interesting stuff that’s sort of new territory for me in some ways. I’m looking forward to digging into it.

DEAN BECKER: I’m looking forward to reading it. You guys are doing great work there at the Chronicle. I appreciate that work and appreciate you coming in.

DANE SCHILLER: Thank you very much. I appreciate you inviting me.


DEAN BECKER: The following extract comes to us from the Huffington Post. The author, Radley Balko.


Arresting people for assaults, beatings and robberies doesn't bring money back to police departments, but drug cases do in a couple of ways. First, police departments across the country compete for a pool of federal anti-drug grants. The more arrests and drug seizures a department can claim, the stronger its application for those grants.

"The availability of huge federal anti-drug grants incentivizes departments to pay for SWAT team armor and weapons, and leads our police officers to abandon real crime victims in our communities in favor of ratcheting up their drug arrest stats," said former Los Angeles Deputy Chief of Police Stephen Downing. Downing is now a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an advocacy group of cops and prosecutors who are calling for an end to the drug war.

"When our cops are focused on executing large-scale, constitutionally questionable raids at the slightest hint that a small-time pot dealer is at work, real police work preventing and investigating crimes like robberies and rapes falls by the wayside," Downing said.

And this problem is on the rise all over the country. Last year, police in New York City arrested around 50,000 people for marijuana possession. Pot has been decriminalized in New York since 1977, but displaying the drug in public is still a crime. So police officers stop people who look "suspicious," frisk them, ask them to empty their pockets, then arrest them if they pull out a joint or a small amount of marijuana. They're tricked into breaking the law. According to a report from Queens College sociologist Harry Levine, there were 33,775 such arrests from 1981 to 1995. Between 1996 and 2010 there were 536,322.

Several NYPD officers have alleged that in some precincts, police officers are asked to meet quotas for drug arrests. Former NYPD narcotics detective Stephen Anderson recently testified in court that it's common for cops in the department to plant drugs on innocent people to meet those quotas -- a practice for which Anderson himself was then on trial.

At the same time, there's increasing evidence that the NYPD is paying less attention to violent crime. In an explosive Village Voice series last year, current and former NYPD officers told the publication that supervising officers encouraged them to either downgrade or not even bother to file reports for assault, robbery and even sexual assault. The theory is that the department faces political pressure to produce statistics showing that violent crime continues to drop. Since then, other New Yorkers have told the Voice that they have been rebuffed by NYPD when trying to report a crime.


DEAN BECKER: On Thanksgiving Day, the New York Times published this opinion piece titled, “Legalizing Marijuana.” It was in regards to a prior piece titled, “Reefer Madness.”

The Obama administration's crackdown on state medical marijuana laws, as Ethan Nadelmann pointed out, does not make "any sense in terms of public safety, health or fiscal policy." Medical marijuana is consistently supported by more than 70 percent of voters. A recent Gallup poll shows that more Americans now want to legalize marijuana altogether than support continued prohibition on adult use.

In an earlier era it may have been a smart move for politicians to act "tough on drugs" and stay far away from legalization. But today, many voters recognize that our prohibition laws don't do anything to reduce drug use but do create a black market where cartels and gangs use violence to protect their profits.

While some fear that legalization would lead to increased use, those who want to use marijuana are probably already doing so under our ineffective prohibition laws. And when we stop wasting so many resources on locking people up, perhaps we can fund real public education and health efforts of the sort that have led to dramatic reductions in tobacco use over the last few decades -- all without having to put handcuffs on anyone.

I have spent my entire adult life fighting the war on drugs as a police officer on the front lines. I have experienced the loss of friends and comrades who fought this war alongside me, and every year tens of thousands of other people are murdered by gangs battling over drug turf in American cities, Canada and Mexico. It is time to reduce violence by taking away a vital funding source from organized crime just as we did by ending alcohol prohibition almost 80 years ago.

The goals of reducing crime, disease, death and addiction have not been met by the "drug war" that was declared by President Nixon 40 years ago and ramped up by each president since.

The public has waked up to the fact that we need to change our marijuana laws. Savvy politicians would do well to catch up.


White Hall, Md.,

DEAN BECKER: The writer is Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and worked on narcotics policing for the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department for over 30 years.

Thank you for joining us here on Century of Lies. I want to thank Mr. Dane Schiller from the Houston Chronicle for joining us. I urge you to check out their paper. They have a lot of great news, informative stuff about this drug war.

In the next week or so we’re going to be bringing in Mr. Russ Jones. He’s author of a book, Honorable Intentions.

As always I remind you there’s no truth, justice, logic, no reason for this drug war to exist. Please visit our website http://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.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org