The war on drugs is a war on poor people of this country
By Sean Gonsalves: March 14,  2000
 Well, now we're down to George W and Al Gore: a good indication that the presidential political spectrum will probably continue to be quite narrow.
  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 doing.
  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 population.)
  "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 suggests.
  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?