02/26/12 Joseph Clifford

Joseph Clifford, Pastor 1st Presbyterian of Dallas + Eric Sterling courtesy Canada's CTV & Beto O'Rourke who's running for US Congress

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Joseph Clifford



Cultural Baggage / February 26, 2012


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

“It’s not only inhumane, it is really fundamentally Un-American.”

“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”
“No more! Drug War!” “No more! Drug War!”

DEAN BECKER: My Name is Dean Becker. I don’t condone or encourage the use of any drugs, legal or illegal. I report the unvarnished truth about the pharmaceutical, banking, prison and judicial nightmare that feeds on Eternal Drug War.


DEAN BECKER: Hello, my friends. Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. We’ve got some great features to share with you today but first off we want to take a look at a conference about a month ago in Texas dealing with the subject of drug war. This was from a panel dealing with religion and the drug war.

The facilitator, Dr. Timothy Bray.


TIMOTHY BRAY: My name is Tim Bray. I’m the director of the Institute for Policy Research at UT Dallas. I’m very pleased to be part of the host committee and a part of this panel which is looking at an important topic because if you haven’t figured it out yet in Texas if we have one thing we have religion. So we have to talk about the role of religion and ethics as we consider the impact of the drug policy.

This is the first Texas State Drug Policy Summit. Can we have a hand for Joy Strickland and the work of her team in pulling this together.


I’ve never seen a room full of the right people like we have today coming together to talk about these issues.

Our last panel for day two, “Religion, Ethics and Drug Policy.” We have speakers who are engaged in various faith-based ministries working with those who are addicted or suffering from addiction. Today we’ve asked them to come together and share with us for about ten minutes the work that they do and the role of their work and their talks about drug policy. Then we’re going to open it up for a little bit of a conversation. As I said before there’s one thing we have in Texas is we have religion.

One of the greatest vehicles for moving public policy in Texas has been the faith community. We want to talk about how the faith community can come together and engage around the issues of addiction and the issues of drug policy.

So first we have the Joseph Clifford. He’s the pastor at 1st Presbyterian of Dallas. All of these gentlemen are intimately familiar with the ministries that work with and serve those who suffer from addiction. We will now hear from each of them to tell us about the work that they do and then a little bit about their thoughts on public policy.

JOSEPH CLIFFORD: Thank you very much. In terms of the work that we do our congregation put together the Stew Pot which works with people who are homeless. Many in the homeless community are battling addiction and suffering from mental illness or have been a product of the mass incarceration cycle and are locked out of housing because of that.

Joy has taught me that’s how our church is connected to this issue. She has invited me to consider issues of drug policy reform. I’m a preacher so typically when I speak it’s a sermon so I apologize. I don’t know how to speak without biblical text. I thought about a text that’s probably familiar to many of us here today and I hope that Charles doesn’t talk about it because he’ll do a better job than I can.

It’s one of my favorite stories and I think it relates to the issues this conference is dealing with. It’s from the gospel of Mark and it’s the fifth chapter. It’s the story of Gerasene demoniac is how it’s labeled.

The story goes like this. Jesus and his disciples came to the other side of the sea to the country of the Gerasenes and when Jesus stepped out of the boat immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him.

He lived among the tombs and no one could restrain him anymore even with a chain for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains but the chains he wrenched apart and the shackles were broken instantly. No one had the strength to subdue him.

Night and day among the tombs he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance he ran and bowed down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me Jesus, son of the most-high god. Swear to God you will not torment me.”

For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of the man you unclean spirit.”

Then Jesus asked, “What is your name?”

He replied, “My name is Legion for we are many.”

He begged him not to send him out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine appeared. And the unclean spirits begged Jesus, “Send us into the swine. Let us enter them.”

So Jesus gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine and the herd numbering about two thousand rushed down the steep bank and into the sea and drowned in the sea.

The swine herders ran off into the city and the country and people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniacs sitting in their clothes and in his right mind.

The very man who had had the Legion and the townspeople were afraid. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighbor.

It’s a great story. And it’s a story that begins with Jesus taking his friends to the other side of the sea. That’s to the land of the gentiles. That’s a place where all good Jewish boys did not go. They weren’t supposed to go into the land of the gentiles. It’s literally the other side of the tracks or the other side of the Trinity River.

Whatever side you normally live on you do not go to the other side because you know what happens in that world. People have told you what happens in that world and you know that’s not a world where you belong.

But Jesus takes his friends there and upon arriving there everything that his friends had ever heard about the world on the other side of the sea is confirmed. They’re met by a naked man running around, howling at the top of his voice, bruising himself with stones, abusing himself in harmful ways.

You add to that that Jesus chooses to land the boat by a graveyard - again, not the place that they really want to be. Later on we learn that not only is there a naked man howling, not only are they in a graveyard but they’re next to a herd of pigs - again, not where good Jewish boys are supposed to be.

This is a scary place. At this point everything that these guys have ever heard about life on the other side of the sea is being confirmed. They’ve watched cops. They’ve seen SWAT. They’ve heard all the lyrics of hip-hop music and they’ve seen stories on the news about these folks and the violence of that community. The drug deals going down.

But Jesus took them there. Why?

Was it to learn something about demon possession? How it affected this man? Mark tells us a lot about his history. Mark tells us that he’d been in and out of chains, in and out of jails. Nobody could do anything with him. He wound up just living in the graveyard.

He tells us that this man assumes that Jesus has come to see him because he yells to Jesus from a distance, “Leave me alone. Don’t tell me how to live my life. Don’t bring all that God stuff down on me. I’m fine out here in the graveyard. I get three square meals a day, roof over my head. Just leave me alone.”

Jesus knows that is the demons talking because no one in their right mind wants to live in a graveyard. And he asks the man, “What is your name?”

This man had forgotten his name. The demons had a hold on him for so long that he’s forgotten his name. He thinks his name is the demon’s, “My name is Legion.” He thinks his name is “acid freak”, “crack head”, “crackerjack”, “dope fiend”, “gangster.”

That’s not to name of societal demons that have landed in that graveyard - racism, classist, political posturing – that shapes policies that landed this young man in the graveyard.

But Jesus knew he was a human being. He knew he was a man. And he wanted to know his name. And so he cast out the legions of demons into a herd of nearby pigs and they run into the sea and they drown and the man is free.

Did Jesus take them out to learn something about that human being possessed by demons? Did he take them out there to learn something about that community who put him out there?

You know they didn’t know what to do with him. They had chained him up. They had locked him up. But he’d break free and be back on the streets. Finally they passed a policy, “You know, three strikes and you’re out. You’re out to the graveyard.”

And then life was getting along fine for them because things were quiet. And they didn’t really care what was happening way out in the graveyard because life was fine for them. Then they got that contract with the empire and the empire brought plenty of pork to their community. Lots of money. Selling BBQ sandwiches to the Roman soldiers. Everything was going well.

Until Jesus showed up.

And cost them business because the pigs ran into the sea. No more BBQ for the Romans. No more government contract, no more pork for the community. No more privatized prisons providing jobs. They didn’t want any part of Jesus’s agenda.

Did you notice they come out and see the man healed, clothed, in his right mind and how do they respond? They don’t say, “Thanks be to God. This man was healed!”

No, they are afraid. And they tell Jesus to leave. What a strange reaction.

They don’t want any part of healing human beings. They’d rather have their pig farming business – their pork that provides for their local economy. They want to keep the status quo even if it means that human beings being ravaged by demons are living in graveyards.

In the end it seems the townspeople care more about pork than they do about people. I think this story might have something it can teach us about drug policy. Why do we criminalize a medical condition? Why do we send generations of African-Americans and Latinos to the graveyard – penitentiaries, privatized business?

Why are we willing to spend billions of dollars on prisons, police and yet refuse to invest in people by providing health care, treatment for mentally ill, education. We’d rather cut the department of education than cut investments in prisons.

In the face of the growing populations of the prisons in this country, the drug war that’s ravaging Mexico fueled by drug demand in the United States with generations of our young people living in the graveyard.

For people of my faith tradition there’s one question to ask when facing these questions. What would Jesus do?


DEAN BECKER: We hope to bring you future segments from this drug policy conference especially regarding religion, ethics and drug policy. The conference, again, put together by Mothers Against Teen Violence headed up by Joy Strickland. Their website is http://matvinc.org,


It’s time to play, Name That Drug by its Side Effects.

Nausea, photophobia, phonophobia, gastrointestinal events including bleeding, ulceration and perforation of the stomach or intestines. Thrombosis, myocardial infarctions, stroke, cerebral hemorrhage and death.


Time’s up. The answer from Glaxo Smith Klein, Treximet For migraine headaches.


DEAN BECKER: The following comes to us courtesy of Canada’s CTV.


ANCHOR WOMAN: And turning things closer to home an American advocacy group made up of police officers, judges and policy advisors are advising the Harper government to not pass bill C10 legislation which includes mandatory-minimum sentences for drug offenses.

REPORTER: Joining us now in Washington is Eric Sterling, spokesman for the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Eric, your group is advocating that the conservative government in this country not enact this new crime legislation. You cite problems that happened in the U.S. as a result. What kind of issues did you have in the states with this zero-tolerance approach?

ERIC STERLING: In 1986 I was counsel to the committee that wrote the mandatory-minimums that we enacted. Our prison population grew from 36,000 in 1986 to 200,000 today. That’s been an enormous expense at more than $25,000 per person per year. It cost much more than the government estimated.

It sends a message to the judiciary of contempt by the legislature. It says, “We don’t trust you. We don’t have confidence in your judgment to impose appropriate sentences for serious offenders.”

By creating these mandatory sentences it means that sometimes low-level offenders, minor offenders who trigger the quantitative threshold get sentenced to the longer sentences that higher-level offenders were targets for.

It certainly didn’t have any positive affect here in the United States in reducing the availability of drugs. The price of the drugs continued to go down. In fact we passed these laws in 1986 and our crack-cocaine epidemic grew steadily for about the next five or six years.

There isn’t evidence looking at drug use in the United States today that these mandatory-minimums played a positive role.

ANCHOR WOMAN: Mr. Sterling, our Justice Minister, Rob Nicholson, says these mandatory-minimum sentences related to marijuana are designed to target organized crime, gangs and grow-ops. You say zero-tolerance to drug offences allows for organized crimes and gangs to flourish. How is that so?

ERIC STERLING: When you have a commodity that is outlawed, such as marijuana, it means that no one involved in the production or distribution has the protection of law. If you have an employment problem you solve that with violence. You can’t fire somebody. If you fire somebody they can rat you out. You can’t contest the quality of goods. You can’t go into court and sue for breach of contract.

None of the protections that all businesses have that are lawful exist in these criminal matters so you end up with the most violent people being able to dominate these organizations or to dominate these businesses.

We learned with alcohol prohibition in this country in the 1920s that it leads to more violence and disaster and ultimately does not protect public health or safety.

REPORTER: You’ve said that this “one size fits all” approach, this sort of “get tough on crime” approach doesn’t work. Talk a little bit about the actual people who might get caught up in this. The young people who, I guess, if you are a critic of this system might put in place – these young people who will caught up in the way it works and end up having this on their record for the rest of their lives.

ERIC STERLING: That’s been a key part of our problem here in the United States. When you simply set these quantitative thresholds then a guy who’s driving a car gets treated like the head of the organized crime syndicate who you’re trying to target.

Mandatory-minimums take the discretion away from judges to impose just sentences in low-level cases. The serious offenders…you have to assume that the judges are going to punish the heads of these organizations harshly. The maximum sentences go up to life. So there’s a great deal of room to punish a high-level offender already. You don’t have to set minimums that end up catching little fish and sentencing them as though they are kingpins.

ANCHOR WOMAN: What’s the alternative to the zero-tolerance policy?

ERIC STERLING: One approach would be if you need you could adopt sentencing guidelines that advise judges and use a variety of methods but LEAP believes that we really need to legalize and regulate the production, distribution and use of these drugs.

I think we’ve had a 40-year experiment that shows that we get more crime and we don’t get the public safety benefit. As former cops, prosecutors and judges we understand that what we’re doing isn’t working and it puts the lives of law enforcement officers needlessly at risk.

We think that a system of regulation and control gives us all the tools that we need to protect public safety.

REPORTER: Eric Sterling joining us from Washington with his take on this government’s bill here in Canada and why the government should not go down that route. Our thanks for your time today, Mr. Sterling.

ERIC STERLING: Thank you for inviting me.


DEAN BECKER: The following speaker is Beto O’Rourke, former city councilman in El Paso, Texas, speaking at the University of Texas at El Paso. He’s now running for U.S. representative, district 16.


BETO O’ROURKE: One other tough decision that I was involved with on the city council happened in 2009. The previous year over 1,600 people had lost their lives in Ciudad Juarez in the midst of a drug war that’s been raging since President Calderon took office in Mexico and declared war on the cartels.

It became increasingly clear…For those of you who grew up in El Paso as I did, you saw spasms of violence in Juarez over the years and it was almost like a natural phenomenon like the weather. It was going to be bad in Juarez for a little while and then it would pass and then you could go back to whatever you did in Juarez – whether you worked there, you partied there, went out to restaurants, took your friends and visitors there…that situation would pass.

After 2008, after 1,600 people had been murdered it was clear that it was not going to pass and it was also clear that the usual suspects…you know, the way that we would comfort ourselves with the deaths in Juarez was that it was just bad people killing bad people – wasn’t necessarily the case. It was little kids dying. It was grandparents dying. It was women who had perhaps rejected a suitor being doused with gasoline and being set on fire and being left to die in the street.

It was all sorts of horrific crimes being committed against people in our sister city – frankly, in our community. So we asked ourselves the question, “Why is this happening? What is our input to this problem and what can we do to stop it?”

To me it became very clear that those of us in El Paso and in the United States who use drugs and mainly use marijuana which is the cornerstone of the cartels’ economy and the drug trade are, in part, to blame for what’s going on in Juarez. When you spend money on drugs here that money ultimately makes its way to the cartels who ultimately use that money to corrupt public officials, to recruit people into their organizations, to buy guns and ultimately to kill and terrorize people with impunity. That’s one input.

The second input is the U.S. government has prohibited marijuana which has created such a premium on that drug that people are literally willing to kill each other and risk death themselves in order to deliver that drug to us here in the United States.

So I did what I thought was obvious which was to point that out and to say given what’s going on in Juarez, given what’s at stake I think we owe ourselves an honest and open conversation about our drug laws and to potentially end the prohibition on these drugs - namely, and most importantly, marijuana.

So a firestorm erupts. Drug legalization, gay marriage, abortion – these are the third rails of U.S. politics. These are the things you don’t touch or associate yourself with if you want to have a career or future. And yet when you’re faced with a problem and you know, in part, what the solution is the moral imperative, the right thing to do is in front of you. It became obvious to me the direction to take.

So I asked for that. We passed a resolution on the city council and all 7 of my colleagues on city council, all 8 of us who can’t agree on what to name a park, how to set the tax rate, what time to start the meeting, all 8 of us agreed that we needed to seriously think about ending the War on Drugs because of what it was doing to Juarez.

So here comes the leadership test. We passed that. We’re getting calls from our constituents, “Bravo. Great Job.” Or “Are you guys out of your minds?!” I was going to use some expletives but I don’t know if I’m being…but there definitely were some expletives. “Are you guys crazy?! Are you guys high?! Why are you talking about this?”

Every chance I got to talk to a constituent – somebody would stop me in the supermarket, somebody would call my office – was another chance to explain why I had spoken out. Why the city council had done this.

One call I got was really interesting. It came from our congressman, Silvestre Reyes. The man I’m now running to replace. He called me up and said, “Beto, you’ve got to stop this. You’re making life really hard on me. The mayor is going to veto your resolution and you need to just give it a rest because if you don’t there’s going to be some consequences.”

“If you continue to do this, if you have the courage of your convictions we’re going to cut off federal money for you in El Paso.”

I didn’t need a reminder that I represent the 79901 zip code in South El Paso. Some census tracks within that code have a per capita income of less than $7,000 per year. The consequence of cutting off federal funding to one of the poorest cities and one of the poorest zip codes in one of the poorest cities is a pretty significant threat.

I later found out that every one of my colleagues on the city council, all 8 of us, got a phone call from the congressman with the same threat. So the mayor vetoes the resolution. The resolution comes back up to council. We need 6 of the 8 to stick to their guns – have that courage of their convictions and only 4 did and 4 folded.

The four who folded said, “What we did last week was right but I cannot sacrifice the well-being of my constituents. I can’t this opportunity for federal funding and so I’m going to fold and am voting against the resolution.”

That, to me, was, as President Obama says, was a very “teachable moment” – a leadership moment. What do you do when the chips are down, when the pressure is on and you still know what the right things is to do and yet you know there are going to be consequences for it?

Here’s a surprising thing. The resolution was defeated. The veto was sustained but because we were talking about this we initiated what is now a national conversation and, frankly, an international conversation about the War on Drugs, the cost to communities like Juarez which has now seen 10,000 people murdered in the last 5 years and we’re looking at how we change this policy.

I like to think that some small part of that started in El Paso, Texas. The consequences to me personally, politically is when I’m knocking on someone’s door sometimes I’m asked, “Are you the guy that wants to legalize drugs?”

And you can imagine there’s not a quick or easy way to answer that question. I could say yes and move on. I could spend 2 or 3 minutes or 5 minutes as I’ve done with you trying to explain my position – the rationale and the context within which it was made. But there’s some consequences to that.

I like to think that I’m going to be able to, down the road, look myself in the mirror. I’m going to be able to, down the road, be able to answer questions for my kids and grandkids, “What did you do, dad (or granddad), when people were being murdered in your community? When your country imprisoned more people than any country on the face of the planet? What did you do when this was going on?”

I want to be able to tell them, “I did the right thing.”

So I don’t know what lesson I can impart except to say that doing the right thing as you enter positions of power and responsibility – and many of you already have them – doing the right thing has its consequences but it also has its rewards.


DEAN BECKER: The drug war has no connection with reality. It’s a fairy tale from long ago put forward by zealots and bigots to accrue power and money from ignorant farmers and store clerks.

Summary: “Adult humans in these United States are too ignorant to decide what they should put into their own bodies. Therefore, henceforward they must purchase a prescription from their doctor proving they’re infirmity before they can procure their pills from a pharmacists.”

That’s from the Harrison Narcotics Act. Franklin, Jefferson and crew would have picked up their muskets and gone to war again over this abomination and yet modern Americans are so soft and scared and ever ready to give big brother a big wet kiss for his promises of protection.

This is the Reverend Dean Becker reminding you, once again, that because of the erroneous, failed policy of drug prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please, be careful.


DEAN BECKER: To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.
Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org
Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.