The war on drugs is a war on poor
people of this country
By Sean Gonsalves: March
Well, now we're down to George W and Al Gore: a good indication
that the presidential political spectrum will probably continue to be
No need to despair. I think sometimes we put too much stock in
presidential power, regarding it as a rival to monarchical authority.
It isn't. Besides, we seem to elect the personality, not the person,
which is why it's hard to say which is more authentic and edifying:
presidential campaigns or the Kangaroo court that, Judge Judy presides
over. (We'll come back to Judge Judy in a minute.)
Fortunately - and contrary to the popular opinion - the seat of government power does
actually belong to the people, even if the people are constantly
bombarded with news and other propaganda that often obscures the truth
with a contextual facts and scares the rabble with hard truths about
modern existence. Here, I'm thinking about the
man-on--the-street impression that crime, in general and violent crime,
in particular -- is out of control when, in fact, so-called street
crime has been declining steadily over the past few years to the utter
astonishment of many criminologists.
All this is to say that it's possible to get the candidates to
talk about issues that are actually important to millions of Americans.
How? With organization and agitation. And that's exactly what a
coalition of 36 organizations representing nearly a million members is
The National Coalition for Effective Drug Policies is calling on
the presidential candidates to re-evaluate the War on the poor, which
some people refer to as the war on drugs. (Sure, there's collateral
damage but make no mistake about it: The war on drugs is a war on the
poor in the Americas North, Central and South America that's having a
particularly devastating effect on the darker hued part of the
"The drug issue has been one of the biggest head-in-the-sand
issues of this presidential campaign. It has broad impacts on many
domestic policies, yet it is not being discussed by the candidates or
raised in the media," says Kevin Zeese, co-chairman of NCEDP.
"Rather than focusing on the past drug use of candidates or
their spouses, we should be examining whether the war on drugs is a
sensible policy or whether new approaches should be considered," Zeese
To that end, the NCEDP sent a letter to the presidential
candidates of the Democratic, Republican, Reform, Libertarian and Green
parties. Even the YWCA signed onto this thing.
Here are a few of the 10
questions that were asked in the letter.
"This February the United States (surpassed the mark of) 2 million
people behind bars - 25 percent of the world's prisoners. This
incarceration rate is driven in large part by drug offenders. Do you
believe that we should continue to rely so heavily on incarceration as
a solution to drug problems? If not, what specific changes would you
recommend to decrease the prison population?
"Chief Justice William
Rehnquist, with other Supreme Court justices, and federal judicial
circuit, has called for an end to mandatory sentencing statutes. Do
agree? Will you support efforts to repeal mandatory sentencing and
return sentencing authority to judges?
"According to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, the largest source of new AIDS
cases is injection drug use; this is particularly true for cases
involving woman and infants. In fact, 60 percent of AIDS cases in women
are attributed to dirty needles and syringes. What would you do to face
up to this new source of the AIDS epidemic? Would you support lifting
the federal funding ban for needle exchange programs?"
And now is probably a good time to look up Judge Judy again.
Judy Sheindlin the tough-talking TV judge, recently was on a two-week
book tour in Australia. Speaking to a lunch audience, she called needle
exchange a program advocated by "liberal morons.” Her suggestion for
how to deal with intravenous drug users? "Give 'em dirty needles and
let 'em die, ... I don’t understand why we think it's important to keep
them alive." That's what she told The Courier Mail in Brisbane.
So far, several corporate sponsors, including Herr's Potato
Chips and Papa John's Pizza, have pledged to stop advertising during
her show because of the remarks. Even conservative columnist Arianna
Huffington decried the comment.
I would be interested in hearing how Bush distinguishes his
"compassionate conservatism" from the Judge Judy variety, rhetoric
aside. And would a President Gore follow or lead us away from the new
Democratic drug polices of the Clinton administration, which is pushing
for $1.6 billion in new military for Colombia, despite the Colombian
military's heinous human rights record in its 40-year old civil war
against the poor in that nation?