09/16/12 Kurt Schmoke

Caravan for Peace IX: Kurt Schmoke, former mayor of Baltimore speak to gathering in support of Caravan for Peace along with Laura Carlson Dir of Ctr for Intl Policies

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Kurt Schmoke
Mayor of Baltimore



Cultural Baggage / September 16, 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: Thank you for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. I’m Dean Becker and happy you’re with us. Want to let you know that this will be our last week of major coverage of the Caravan for Peace – the effort led by Mexican poet, Javier Sicilia as we traveled across American some 7,000 miles.

The following comes to us from our visit to home of the wire. The following was recorded last week in Baltimore, Maryland at a university auditorium. It features the words of Kurt Schmoke, former mayor of Baltimore and now a leader in calling for the end of drug war. He is currently Dean of the Howard University Law School.


KURT SCHMOKE: Good Afternoon. I am very sorry that I cannot deliver this speech in both Spanish and English but I am so pleased that we have friends that will be supportive and help me out in this regard.

I want to not only thank the Caravan for Peace for bringing this initiative here to Baltimore but thank you for your efforts to lift up the issues of the War on Drugs, why it’s a failure, what it has done in our communities not only in the United States but throughout the world.

It is very important work that you do and it is work that unfortunately will have to continue for several years to come.

In 1914 a law was passed in the United States called the Harrison Act. That began what we currently call the War on Drugs. In 2014, unfortunately, we will be celebrating the 100th year of the War on Drugs. It is my hope that, at least, in that year we can have peace and not continued war.

Let me acknowledge before I give my very brief remarks the fact that we do have two local elected officials here in the audience. I wanted to acknowledge a member of our state legislature – state delegate Dan Morhaim who is also a physician.

[audience applauds]

I wanted also to acknowledge the state’s attorney for Baltimore city who’s been a very aggressive prosecutor, Mr. Greg Bernstein.

[audience applauds]

I mentioned to you that the War on Drugs in the United States started in 1914. I want to highlight for you a comment by a man who was a police chief and the president of the International Association of Police back in 1936. His name was August Palmer. He was an outstanding, progressive law enforcement official and he said at that time and I quote him, ”Drug addiction is not a police problem. It never has been and never can be solved by policeman. It is first and last a medical problem.”

That was in 1936 and yet we are still continuing to fight the battle today of trying to get our country and our policy makers to understand that the War on Drugs is complicated. It is not a single, silver bullet that will solve it but, most importantly, it is a health problem and not a crime problem.

You bring to our attention - and I know that our hero Senor Javier Sicilia has understood this – that it is an international problem and not only international but interconnected. That is what happens in this war in one country affects what happens in the War on Drugs in another country.

We have seen the terrible, terrible impact of the War on Drugs in Mexico recently. Not only in the large number of deaths, the rise in the cartels but unfortunately in watching American policy, particularly the so-called “Fast and Furious” policy of selling weapons and trying to track those weapons – a very bad policy that has done more harm than good.

We have seen what has happened in Colombia with the United States policy of so-called “Plan Colombia” that was supposed to help that country but, in fact, all that it did was to buy large numbers of helicopters that could be used by the military not only to attack civilians but to spray poisonous material in the areas of civilian populations.

And then just yesterday I pick up the New York Times and I cut this article out that says, “United States suspends its anti-drug radar sharing with Honduras.”

What had happened is as a part of the War on Drugs the United States sold technical information and intelligence, so-called spying operations, to the government of Honduras and was supposed to be used to help fight the War on Drugs but the Honduran government ended up using it to shoot down civilian aircraft of people who were deemed suspicious by the government.

Now I want to point out there have been very positive things with respect to international involvement and our interconnectedness. Caravan for Peace for coming here and explaining to people in the United States how we share the agony in the War on Drugs is very important.

Here in Baltimore many years ago we tried to make an improvement in fighting one aspect of the drug problem which is the AIDS problem – the spread of AIDS. We wanted to do that by having a sterile syringe exchange program. We were not very successful in getting the public to understand it until friends from oversees, from the Netherlands, came over and explained. It was law enforcement officials, it was public health officials from the Netherlands that came over and explained how the needle exchange program could help reduce the spread of AIDS without increasing the criminal aspect of the War on Drugs.


DEAN BECKER: We’re listening to a speech delivered by Kurt Schmoke, the former mayor of Baltimore, speaking at a university in Baltimore to a gathering welcoming the Caravan for Peace.


KURT SCHMOKE: I have been disappointed not only as a mayor – I was the mayor of this city for 12 years and I was so proud of our community for being creative in trying to make sure we did more to treat those who had been drug addicted and allowing us to do the needle exchange program that helped so many AIDS victims.

I’m very proud of Baltimorians to be creative but I’ve been so disappointed at the national leaders. Not just the Republicans – it’s been the Democrats also. I thought that the Republicans would just look at the money that’s being wasted on the War on Drugs - they care so much about balancing the budget and doing efficient things with money. The War on Drugs is an absolute waste of dollars and it should be converted to heavy on law enforcement to more on public health. But they didn’t do it.

And then when the Democrats came in I thought well maybe there would be a change there but, as I said, we had this “Fast and Furious” policy and then, unfortunately, our president decided to attack medical marijuana in California for reasons that I simply don’t understand...let me pause – I do understand.

This is a very political issue and when you look at the War on Drugs going over for the last 100 years you have to ask yourself, “Don’t people understand the definition of insanity?!”

That is most people understand that if you do the same thing over and over and expect a different result that is one definition of insanity. But the War on Drugs we continue to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result. Why? Why is that? Because the War on Drugs is mostly about money and power.

This is not just about people being addicted to drugs. It is also about people being addicted to drug money. You say, “Who’s addicted to drug money?”

Well look who benefits by the current policy that we have. People make big money on prohibition. Prohibition failed in the 1920s to make ours an alcohol-free America and prohibition is failing today to make our a drug-free America.

But many people are making a lot of money. Drug cartels of course but financial institutions, many financial institutions, private corrections (people who make money building jails are very happy with the War on Drugs as we have it today) and many, many who receive money for military misadventures also are happy with the current…so it’s money and power and we have to break the grip of that.

It is my hope that efforts like Caravan for Peace will do that. In the United States our key to starting a new approach is by starting to accept the definition of our problem as it was laid out by a great American professor, David Musto, and he wrote a book that described the drug problem as, “the American disease.”

Think about it. Think about it. The problem that he is saying is this is primarily a health problem. Addiction and AIDS which are related to the War on Drugs are health problems. Ladies and gentleman you don’t arrest your way out of a disease. You don’t prosecute your way out of a disease. And you don’t incarcerate your way out of a disease.

You have to come up with different strategies. Let us start by redefining this as a health problem, primarily a health problem and not a crime problem. We know the criminal justice system has a role to play – it’s just not the primary role. It is the public health that should lead the way.

I’m asking you as we welcome our friends from the Caravan for Peace and all of the friends who are considering doing something different about the War on Drugs to think globally but act locally. Think globally but act locally.

We know that this problem is an international problem. Our elected officials at the highest level are not about to do something about it so we have to do something at the local level.

What is that? We and the city and the state and the private sector and our individual citizens have to carve out ways in which we can work together. We can expand treatment for those who have been addicted. We can expand rehabilitation. We can also make sure that we are doing what some of these organizations are doing which is to try to make sure that when people get arrested and serve their time that get to wipe that off their record. That they expunge that and get a fresh start. We need to give people a fresh start because there’s so many young people that get involved early and yet want to go on and live wonderful and productive lives.

When George Bush, the president, was asked whether he ever did drugs as a young person what he said was, “When I was young and irresponsible I was young and irresponsible.”

He never admitted what we know he did as a young man but he was able to get a fresh start. He was able to change and society supported him in his fresh start. I think that’s what we owe our young people.

Finally, because of my concern about involvement in citizenship, we ought to do all that we can to eliminate the laws that prevent people who have a criminal conviction from being able to vote. Right now there are so many laws that restrict the ability of people to vote and it makes such a huge difference.

In 2008 in the presidential election 13% of African-American men who by age were eligible to vote in that election were prevented from voting because of something that happened when they were very young. 13% - just think about that. The difference that could make in an election.

Well there’s much more that we could say and I know you will hear from the panel and hear from those who have been victimized but I have just come to say that we all should be hopeful. We can make change. It may be slow and we know that progress is sometimes very difficult but I do believe that in 2014 we will no longer be using the term war as it relates to drugs but by 2014 we will, indeed, be talking about peace.

Thank you very much.


DEAN BECKER: Once again that was Kurt Schmoke, former mayor of Baltimore speaking to the Caravan for Peace.


[game show music]

It's time to play Name That Drug by its Side Effects!

Side effects may include next day drowsiness, dizziness and headache. Sleepwalking and eating or driving while not fully awake with amnesia for the event have been reported. In rare cases, severe allergic reactions can occur.

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Time's up!

The answer: [rooster crows] Two-layer Ambien CR


DEAN BECKER: A bit later speaking on the university stage in Baltimore was Laura Carlson. She’s director for the Center for International Policies of the Americas Program.


LAURA CARLSON: Thank you very much. It’s a privilege and honor to be here with the rest of you and hear the very intelligent and wise words of the people who have spoken before me.

It’s been interesting for us on the caravan for us because on almost all the stops that we’ve gone to what we’ve found is that it’s really not hard to convince people that there is something terribly wrong with this war, to convince them that it’s just not working and that, in fact, it’s hurting people on both sides of the border in different ways in the United States the cities that we visited and within Mexico.

Even the polls that are coming out show that the public is now convinced that the war is failing and about half are now in favor of what used to be considered radical solutions like legalizing marijuana.

What we found also is that while most people are unaware of the situation in Mexico and what the root causes are and what this drug war policy has to do with the policy they’re still immediately struck with sympathy with the stories that they’re hearing, the universal sentiment of human loss and also again struck by the fact that this model of trying to block supply by taking on the cartels in Mexico and by trying to stop consumption by criminalizing drug use and drug users within the United States is, again, not working.

So the immediate question is if there is this very broad consensus why hasn’t anything been changed yet? And that’s where we begin to ask other questions. Why does the Mexican government continue to pay a huge proportion of a poor country’s budget to fight this drug war that’s not only failing but that’s generated so much violence. Why does the United States government continue to support this with over 2 billion dollars in the form of the Merida Initiative and other sources?

When we ask ourselves these questions what we find is that it is really time to look behind the scenes of the drug war. This is much of what former Mayor Schmoke has talked about. There’s some very powerful interests there.

Some of those interests are in the form of economic interests and some of those interests are political interests. It’s the power and the money that he spoke to us about just a few minutes ago.

Some of the ‘fans’ – the promoters of the drug war – are very upfront and honest about it. They’re politicians that have clear ties to the military establishment and to the business of war. They funnel government contracts to defense companies and then those same defense companies funnel money as a reward back into their political campaigns. This is part of what keeps the cycle of war moving and the drug war is a part of that same thing.

Unfortunately these same politicians seem to be the same ones who wrote the Republican party platform and foreign policy that just came out this year as part of the convention. They’ve invented a new term called narco-terrorism that attempts to equate counter narcotic efforts with counter terrorism efforts and actually to say that someone who is a drug trafficker is also, at least, a potential terrorist. And that the production and transit of illicit substances which happen so much in Mexico and Colombia is part of a terrorist national security agenda.

This, of course, is false. In Mexico, Latin America drugs are produced and trafficked. This is obviously true but it’s an illegal business that thrives off drug prohibition in the United States. If a policy make cannot tell the difference between drug trafficking which is a business and terrorism which is a violent, political agenda they should not be in the business of making policy for the rest of us.

The other interests, of course, are economic and this comes together with the politicians because the politicians who are manufacturing the pretext for war are complicit with the companies that are manufacturing the weapons for war. In this cycle the drug war is really just the latest market for the intelligence and spy industries and for the weapons industries that are making so much money off these contracts.

On this side of the border it’s really not the military so much as the security complex which has been called the national security complex and that is to say security companies, weapons industries, and the drug cartels that are also functioning here that are running this but what’s also been mentioned that’s very, very important now is the way that private companies that run our prisons are now pressing for bigger and more prisons and they rely on the drug war the same way they rely on immigration laws to fill those prisons and provide them with young clientele to keep their business going.

We see that here. We’ve seen that since we’ve been in Baltimore where they figure it’s easier and more profitable to lock kids away than to educate them or to provide them with a decent job.

We also traveled through the southwest where we saw the construction of these detention centers behind whose walls women are being raped, prisoners are being killed for lack of medical attention only for having crossed the border in search of a job.

This has been part of a complex in which one woman who was formerly incarcerated in New York said, ”It’s as they’re defining us as throw away people.”

Nobody is a throw away person.

What you’ll hear from these victims who are traveling with the caravan and the people we’ve heard from in the cities in the United States is that really the biggest casualty of the drug war is security itself. The drug war in both of our countries has put our countries at great risk.

So we have this war in which nothing makes sense. We’ve talked about examples and I would like to give you two quick examples from both here and there.

There was recently an event in Mexico where it turns out that the Mexican Federal Police ambushed an U.S. embassy car that was carrying CIA agents that were trading members of the Mexican armed forces.

Of course the first question that everyone was asking was why are the police who are being funded by the United States to fight the drug war ambushing and attempting to murder U.S. advisors who are also being funded by the United States to fight the drug war?

We’ll probably never know the precise answer to this question but it has to do with the fact that the armed forces and the police in Mexico are so corrupt you can’t tell the difference between the drug cartels and the security forces half the time.

But there’s another question here too. Why were U.S. CIA agents being funded to go down to Mexico and train 18-year-old Mexican recruits to shoot their own people? This is a drug war where the Mexican armed forces are in the street and they’re attacking their own people. They like to say that 90% of them are people who are linked to the drug trade. They have no idea if that figure is correct. No one has any idea if that figure is correct. In fact, the definition of innocent and guilty is not that clear when you have a war where the lines are so blurred.

The second example is from here. Yesterday we heard about a 16-year-old boy that was shot by a 14-year-old boy with an assault rifle. We learned that it’s easier in many neighborhoods here in Baltimore to go out and buy an assault rifle in the streets than it is to buy a tomato because there’s no fresh fruits and vegetables and the weapons are all over.

So we have two examples of the kind of insanity that we’ve been talking about all afternoon. I want to be clear about something. We’re not saying that drug abuse isn’t a problem or that organized crime in Mexico isn’t a problem. They absolutely are.

What we’re saying and everyone before me has said it is they are problems that have to be dealt with in a far different way. They’re public health problems, their public safety problems. They are not national security problems and they are not problems that should be dealt with repressive and militarized measures in either of our countries.

We know there’s a better way. There’s a better path to human security. There’s a better path to human health and to community approaches to these problems.

The needless grief, the danger we’ve been placed in by what are just plain bad policies by our governments that for the most part really don’t care about what’s happening and seem to be deaf to our pleas and to the obvious evidence that this is not working out in Mexico and in the United States.

Administration officials and those who benefit from the drug war say that the proposal to legalize marijuana is irresponsible. We say that 40 years of doing the same thing that not only doesn’t work but kills people and especially young people is irresponsible.

Let us not be ambiguous. We must end the drug war now. We must reform the drug policies that makes drug use criminal and gives criminals a multibillion dollar business. We need to take that business out of their hands and regulate it and be able to control what happens in our communities.

If we take the flow of money out of the hands of organized crime we cut off their lifeline. We cut off their ability to recruit the young. We cut off their ability to buy the weapons that are hurting our youth.

We can end the drug war. Maybe we can even end it before that 100-year anniversary that former Mayor Schmoke mentioned. We can build better communities and better nations and a way better bi-national relationship.

We can do this only when we get together. We need to support our local organizations and get together across the borders. Then we can join together not just to share our pain and our sorry but based on a common vision of a better future for ourselves and for our families.

Thank you.


DEAN BECKER: Again, that was Laura Carlson. She’s director of the Center for International Policies, the Americas Program.

I want to remind you, once again, to please check out http://caravanforpeace.org.

As always I remind you that because of prohibition you can’t tell 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.

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.
Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org