BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
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Archive for the ‘Drugs’

Marijuana Decriminalization Isn’t Stopping Arrests in DC

August 06, 2014 By: Mel Category: Drugs

An ounce of weedDCist reports that “between July 17 and July 31, 26 people have been arrested for marijuana-related crimes that don’t fall under the new decriminalization law.” Fourteen of those people were arrested for consumption. Presumably they were actually caught smoking in public. Police aren’t supposed to stop people for the smell of weed anymore. But I’m not exactly going to be shocked to find out that isn’t how things are playing out.

Of the other twelve people arrested, only one of them was arrested for having more than an ounce of weed. Eight were arrested for distribution. Presumably those eight sold to undercovers or were actually seen transacting a sale. But again, I wouldn’t be shocked to find out that wasn’t the case. Three of the arrests were for intent to distribute. Meaning that three people were arrested in those couple of weeks despite having less than an ounce and nobody having witnessed them sell anything.

Too many people believe that quantity is the determining factor when police and prosecutors are deciding whether or not to go after someone for intent. But quantity is just one thing they might use to argue that you were intending to distribute. For example, one of the cases that we heard when I was on grand jury duty involved a minuscule amount of marijuana. But they were prosecuting the kid for intent because it was divided up into a few different baggies.

I’ll give you three guesses what the race of the accused was.

Just kidding. We all know who gets arrested for petty drug crimes in DC. Marijuana decriminalization was supposed to be addressing that disparity. But considering that the MPD clearly states on their website that “selling any amount of marijuana to another person” is still a crime, their reminding us that they still intend to arrest people for marijuana, and their long history of targeting – I think we can expect the bullshit to continue.

Legality, Morality, and Dehumanization

January 25, 2013 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Drugs, Inequality, Sex

According to Oliver Willis, some of us on the left are dumb because we aren’t ready to declare that a woman arrested for prostitution with her son present is an open and shut case of wrongness. He claims it isn’t about whether or not we think prostitution should be legal. It is illegal. She brought her kid. She involved “her child in what is very clearly illegal activity.” End of story.

But does Willis really think that people should never do anything illegal? Back in November, Willis claimed that Martin Luther King was one of the most important figures in black American history. And in this piece, he asked “Do people on the left think that Martin Luther King simply held one protest and those in power immediately rushed to pass the Civil Rights Act?”

I certainly don’t think that MLK held one protest. I know that he held many protests. I also know that he spent quite a bit of time in jail for breaking the law, as did a whole lot of other people in the civil rights movement. It was, after all, MLK who said “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”

But perhaps Willis just meant that children should never be involved in illegal activity, even the illegal activity he might find moral. It so happens that I am currently reading Freedom’s Children, interviews of people who were children during the civil rights movement. Kids were actively recruited by MLK and others to participate in protests and nonviolent disobedience. They integrated movie theaters and restaurants. They went to jail. They got their asses kicked. Does Willis think that shouldn’t have happened? I doubt it.

What about immigration, Oliver. You said Romney lost because he “embraced in a bear hug the most fringe anti-immigrant position out there.” You seem to support immigration reform and scoff at Republicans who use the term “amnesty” to refer to legalizing those who crossed our borders without papers. Do you think immigrants who crossed the border illegally with their children should be strung up from the nearest lamppost?

No. I don’t believe that this is really about legal or illegal. I think Willis would agree that disobeying unjust, immoral laws is perfectly acceptable. If not, he has some explaining to do about his love of MLK. This is about Willis’s opinion of sex work and the people who do it. It is about his willingness to dismiss and dehumanize someone because they did something he finds icky.

Back when I took my first class on the drug war, I had this click moment in my head. Even though I had never been in favor of the drug laws, even though I knew many people who were caught up in the injustice system, I never really recognized the scheme for what it was. How I never saw the process of dehumanization is incredible to me. I mean, I had been reading about Nazi Germany’s laws against Jews since grade school. I knew how vagrancy laws were used during Jim Crow. I understood how laws were enacted to criminalize certain groups and justify their oppression. But somehow I never saw it clearly when it came to the drug laws.

And it wasn’t until relatively recently that I really gave a lot of thought to the laws against sex work. Who are they meant to control? Where did they come from? Who is getting their freedom taken away? What is the result of the War on Sex Workers?

But Willis doesn’t want to ask those questions. He doesn’t want to ask why a person might do sex work. He doesn’t want to ask why sex work is looked down upon more than working for Goldman Sachs. He doesn’t want to ask why someone might have to bring their kid to work with them. To ask those questions would mean seeing that woman as a human being and not a “criminal” – that classification which justifies taking someone’s freedom, taking their children, marking them for life.

When someone dared suggest that perhaps the woman’s choices were limited and that we should try to understand more about her circumstances before we judge, Willis chose to get butthurt that people had lower standards for the poor. Apparently, he thinks that following the rules and working hard will eventually pay off for everyone – despite all the evidence to the contrary.

No, Willis. Asking questions, refusing to completely dehumanize that woman, is not a “degrading” assumption that “a poor person must break the law to eat and that that’s somehow okay.” It is an understanding that some human beings have more limited choices than others. It is an understanding that laws are often made for the purpose of controlling certain groups of people. It is the unwillingness to dehumanize and degrade.

Willis believes in “absolutes, ” by which he means that laws are laws and should be followed by all. Nobody gets a break. The guy who stole millions in mortgage fraud schemes is exactly the same as the starving guy who stole bread.  For him, anything else means “no moral guidance, no right and wrong… anarchy.”

Except that “no moral guidance” is not what anarchy means. Anarchy means no rulers. It means no hierarchies that allow a few powerful people to make laws that oppress the rest. It means understanding that moral and legal are not the same.  It means freedom, mutual aid, and respect. It means trying to understand what your fellow human beings are experiencing and not assuming that your morals and choices are universal.

Laws against sodomy, laws against miscegenation, laws against drugs, and laws against sex work have all been used to target marginalized people. And even when some of the people who support those laws have good intentions – like those who know how destructive drug abuse can be – they cannot just close their eyes to how the laws are used. That is immoral.

Thoughts on Societal Mental Illness

September 21, 2012 By: Mel Category: Drugs, Sex, Violence

Make a claim that one snort of cocaine makes you irredeemably insane and people will line up behind laws that lock cocaine users up for life. But read that 73% of incarcerated women have mental health issues and many of those same people will find it a compelling argument against mass incarceration. (Private prison companies, of course, just see it as another opportunity to make money.)

Why?

There is a really interesting article about pedophiles on Wandervogel Diary. The thing that struck me the most was this.

Studies have consistently shown that pedophilia is associated with anomic states (war, famine, epidemics) and with major life crises (failure, relocation, infidelity of spouse, separation, divorce, unemployment, bankruptcy, illness, death of the offender’s nearest and dearest).

Few things cause a social panic quite like pedophilia. I don’t think most people ask where it comes from. It is seen as some individual aberration. If anyone wonders what went wrong, they probably blame it on porn or a lack of religious morality.  Which is ironic given that porn may actually prevent sex offenses and religiosity increase them.

If war is associated with pedophilia, then pedophilia is not an individual aberration. It is a societal disease. We are creating pedophiles in the same way we are creating self-medicating soldiers. And when we put people in prison for doing cocaine, especially if they end up in solitary, we may actually end up creating someone who won’t be able to function in society.

Perhaps at some level we realize that these are all monsters of our own making, that the things we do out of fear end up creating exactly what we are afraid of.

There is more I want to say about this. But I’m cutting myself off because I really want you to read this post on the scapegoating of “crazy”.  Love to hear your thoughts.

 

Drug War History – And So It Begins

September 17, 2012 By: Mel Category: Drugs

Reefer MadnessWhile I was pulling up articles for my last post, I re-read the infamous New York Times piece Negro Cocaine “Fiends” Are a New Southern Menace. The article is a very convoluted argument against prohibition. And it is made by trying to scare the crap out of  ignorant people.

The doctor who wrote the article claimed that cocaine “may produce the wildest form of insane exaltation, accompanied by the fantastic hallucinations and delusions that characterize acute mania.” (They didn’t have very strict standards for doctors back then did they?)

Also, when on cocaine, a person “imagines that he hears people taunting or abusing him, and this often incites homicidal attacks upon innocent and unsuspecting victims.” (Given that this is 1914 in the South, I’m guessing those black men were not imagining the taunts and abuses.)

Did I mention that cocaine makes you impervious to bullets? No really. That’s what the good doctor said. Do a few bumps and your skin turns to kevlar or something.  So those poor cops in the South had to get bigger guns.

Oh and then there is this.

When we consider that even a single ounce – a quantity that does not fill an ordinary watch pocket – will keep fifty “fiends” well “doped” for a week or more, we can readily understand why every effort to suppress the traffic utterly fails.

OK now. You might have convinced me that there is some really good shit out there that gives you awesome hallucinations. I might have even gone for the bulletproof thing. But a single ounce wouldn’t have lasted me one night at Warsaw.* I’m gonna have to call bullshit.

Naturally, there is no solution to this insanity. “Once the negro has formed the habit he is irreclaimable. The only method to keep him from taking the drug is imprisoning him.”

It’s easy to make fun of this article and movies like Reefer Madness. They are so incredibly ridiculous. But what’s even more ridiculous is how much of it is still part of the public narrative. The crack cocaine reports I grew up with in the 80s weren’t a whole lot different from that 1914 article. One taste and a person is ruined for life. They are going to lose their mind. They will be violent.

There will be no social control!

And by social control we actually mean control of black men and women and “locoed” Mexicans - people like that. We can’t have bulletproof black guys just walking around. And what about those women who smoke weed and become all lusty and whatnot. The only legitimate response is to lock em all up, or at least tuck them away in a suburban kitchen making hamburger helper.

And that is the beginnings of the drug war. The only thing that changed is that it just kept getting worse.

_______________

*I cannot believe Warsaw is now a deli, that MSNBC’s Morning Joe broadcasted out of no less. South Beach has gone to shit.

What Choices?

November 28, 2011 By: Mel Category: Drugs

A couple months ago, the Positive Force book club read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. One of the book club members thought that Alexander had gone too far in comparing the drug war to Jim Crow. He pointed out that it is far different to be discriminated against based on some accident of birth than it is to be discriminated against based on a choice that you made to break the law.

I don’t think Alexander was suggesting that Jim Crow and the drug war are exact equivalents. She made the case that the drug war was part of a continuum. Chattel slavery and Jim Crow were tools for economic exploitation and social control. Once one form of subjugation was no longer viable, a new form came to take its place.

The conversation got me thinking about choices and how often we are mistaken about what choices we think we had or what choices we think other people had.

Could a person have chosen not to do drugs or sell drugs. Maybe. But what if you had few other options for employment? What if you simply have no compelling reason not to be high all the time? Even if I agreed that it should be illegal to use or sell drugs, which I don’t, I would still ask why someone made the decisions they did. I would still ask what choices people perceived they had, why their choices are illegal, who made them that way, and to what purpose.

I still ask those questions when people do things that I actually think are wrong – violent things, cruel things. Whatever choices people make that cause themselves or other people to suffer should be examined.

We don’t all have the same choices in life. Sometimes it is perception. Often, as is the case with many of the people who end up in prison on drug charges, the options have been intentionally narrowed. Our drug laws were created in large part and are enforced selectively to criminalize very specific people. Once you criminalize/demonize someone, it is so much easier to take away their rights. And that serves some people’s interests quite nicely.

Looking at the social and historical circumstances and at the institutional processes that led someone to make a decision does not absolve them of responsibility for their decision. It doesn’t ignore their agency. It puts their decision in context. And context is everything when it comes to choices.

Drug War Ping Pong

July 12, 2010 By: Mel Category: Drugs

Lately, I’ve seen several articles holding up Colombia as some kind of model for how to deal with drug war violence.   The latest one is this piece in Foreign Affairs in which Robert Bonner claims that Mexico should follow Colombia’s example.

Really people?  Colombia?

Colombia is ranked number 138 on the Global Peace Index.  That makes it the most violent country in Latin America, one notch above North Korea.  Colombia is the only Latin American country where the gap between rich and poor is increasing.  Union members in Colombia are routinely murdered with impunity.  According to Human Rights Watch:

Colombia presents the most serious human rights and humanitarian situation in the region. Battered by an internal armed conflict involving government forces, guerrilla groups, and paramilitaries, the country has one of the largest populations of internally displaced persons in the world.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that Colombia should not be held up as anyone’s example.  But more importantly, I would like to point out that the problems in Mexico are, in part, the result of the drug war ramp up in Colombia.  And the massive drug trade in Colombia was, in part, the result of Mexico’s drug war ramp up in the seventies.

In 1971, Tricky Dick declared his war on drugs.  Shortly after, the U.S. put tons of pressure on Mexico to do something about the Mexican weed that was coming into the United States.  Mexico obliged and started the first eradication program.  They dumped paraquat on the marijuana crops.  Reports surfaced that paraquat tainted marijuana was being sold in the U.S.  Of course, nobody stopped smoking marijuana.  They just started growing it in the U.S. or buying it from marijuana growers in Colombia.  Marijuana production and distribution lines shifted.

Colombia is a huge country with a tumultuous political history – including years of violence and a tendency toward private armies.  In the 1960s, in response to a pact between liberals and conservatives that screwed most poor/indigenous/Afro-Colombians, armed guerrilla groups started operating in large swaths of Colombia’s territory.  The government had no ability to enforce laws in those areas.  Smugglers didn’t have to worry about government interference in their business.

Marijuana growers and guerrillas had a somewhat symbiotic relationship at first.  A little piece of the action for the guerrillas and they left each other alone.  And then cocaine got popular.  Colombians had the supply lines set up already and were conveniently situated between the Andean coca producers and the U.S. market.  The money made in cocaine was insane.  The more wealthy the cocaine dealers got, the more they became the enemy of the guerrilla groups.  Naturally, the drug cartels started their own armies – paramilitary forces.  And then the bloodbath really began.

By the 1980s, the Colombian and U.S. governments decided they were going to crack down on the drug cartels.  If your criteria for success is that the government of Colombia did not completely disintegrate, than I suppose you can say that their efforts were a “success”.  But as I pointed out above, Colombia is hardly a peaceful paradise.

More importantly, as the heat was turned up in Colombia and in the Caribbean, the drug corridor moved back to Mexico and Central America.  It’s like the most vile game of ping pong.  The violence doesn’t go away.  It just ebbs momentarily and springs back worse later, often with an even more corrupt and totalitarian government in place.

The next time you hear someone say that Mexico should follow Colombia’s example, smack em on the head for me will you?

4/20 Quick Hit

April 20, 2010 By: Mel Category: Drugs

Not my regular posting day, but I can’t let 4/20 go by without posting something on the drug war.  Here’s a little debate with Ethan Nadelmann followed by links to some orgs that you should know about.

Drug Policy Alliance

Norml

Marijuana Policy Project

Stop the Drug War

Pointless U.S. Drug Policy – Bolivian Edition

November 23, 2009 By: Mel Category: Drugs, Politics

Bolivian president Evo Morales says that exports to the U.S. have decreased 8% due to Bolivia’s decertification under The Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA).  However, Morales expects that agreements with Venezuela, along with demand from Arab countries, will make up for the loss.  (Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been strengthening his ties with Bolivia and Venezuela.)

Supposedly, the U.S. government frowns on the increasing influence of Chavez in Latin America.  Supposedly, the U.S. government is worried about Iranian power around the world.  Supposedly, the Obama administration is trying to turn over a new leaf with Latin America.  So why would the U.S. government do something that alienates Latin American countries and sends them into the warm embrace of the very people they are trying to isolate?

It’s inexplicable, at least to any rational person, but U.S. drug policy has never been rational.

The United States is the leading consumer of cocaine.  Rather than dealing with U.S. addiction and its related problems, our policy has been to go after the “source.”  Now it takes many ingredients to make cocaine – sulfuric acid, kerosene, lime, sodium carbonate – but we have focused on going after the coca leaf.

Going after coca leaves may seem to make some sense, as the coca leaf is where the alkaloids that make you high are found.  But coca is a bush grown by subsistence farmers, campesinos, who often have no other viable cash crop.  And the coca leaf is an integral part of Andean culture and has been since at least 1800 B.C.

Unfortunately for Andeans and their traditions, a German chemist named Friedrich Gaedcke isolated the alkaloids in coca leaves.  Andean coca growers were everyone’s best friend when coca was used in legal products like Coca Cola and cocaine laced wine.  But once a handful of U.S. drug warriors decided that cocaine had to be stopped, we expected Andean people to turn their backs on thousands of years of culture and to just give up an integral part of their economy.

As the drug war ratcheted up, Andean people in Bolivia and elsewhere suffered the consequences.  Bolivia was pressured to eradicate coca crops using herbicides and fungicides that damaged food crops, contaminated water sources, and made people sick.  Human rights abuses escalated as pressure was put on Bolivia to militarize their anti-drug efforts and to impose increasingly draconian penalties on people involved in the coca and cocaine trades.

In addition to interdiction and eradication, drug warriors from the U.S. promoted crop substitution programs.  Loans were provided to farmers to grow crops other than coca and special trade deals were arranged to help open up U.S. markets to legal Andean goods.  The ATPDEA was part of that effort.

All of our efforts to stop drugs at the “source” have been an abysmal failure.  Substitute crops were no replacement for coca bushes which need little care and bring in far more money.  The only things U.S. imposed drug policies were effective at was alienating Andean people.  Nobody knows that better than Evo Morales, former head of the Chapare coca growers union.

Morales has taken the position that Bolivia should say no to cocaine, but yes to coca.  His refusal to acquiesce to all U.S. demands when it comes to drug policy has contributed to a testy relationship with the U.S. and to Bolivia’s continued decertification.

Now the decertification doesn’t really matter much.  It effects only a small amount of trade.  And the U.S. officials know damned well that, even if Morales did everything they want, it wouldn’t do anything to resolve the drug problem in the United States.  So it makes absolutely no sense that we would take action to piss off Bolivians (and their allies) and drive a further wedge between the U.S. and other countries of the Americas.

But sense and drug policy don’t seem to go together in the United States.

Rewriting the Drug War News

November 09, 2009 By: Mel Category: Drugs

Ever read a news story and want to bang your head on the wall because of all the underlying assumptions written into it?  Me too.

Stop the Drug War has a new project called the Drug Policy News Writing Demonstration Project.

The Drug Policy News Demonstration Project seeks to raise awareness of the consequences of prohibition as they routinely occur on a daily basis, but which are rarely identified as such in news reports. We are doing this by presenting rewritten versions of drug-related articles published by mainstream news outlets. This effort is a project of the Drug War Chronicle newsletter, a publication of StoptheDrugWar.org.

I’ll be participating in this project and will be sure to link from here.

American Violet Shows the Violence and Racism of the Drug War

April 20, 2009 By: Mel Category: Drugs, Movie

Based on the true story of Regina Kelly, American Violet portrays the violence, racism, and institutionalized injustices perpetrated by drug warriors.

African American communities in a small Texas town were being terrorized by a drug task force led by the local district attorney. Texas law allowed for people to be indicted based on the word of one confidential informant. Those indicted were picked up in drug sweeps and were pressured to plead guilty.

Dee Roberts (the character based on Regina Kelly) was one of those picked up. Innocent, she refused to plead. She became the lead plaintiff in an ACLU racial bias case against the district attorney and others.

The film is compelling in its own right. More importantly, it conveys the violence, racism, injustice, and institutional bias of our justice system. It does it with accuracy and without getting preachy.

It shows how poor African Americans are easy targets for a monstrous bureaucracy with perverse incentives to keep arrests high. It shows the violence of the drug war, not the violence of cartels and gangs that we normally see in the media, but the everyday violence police perpetrate on communities.

The drug war doesn’t just take the freedom of those convicted. Poor people who are forced to plead guilty become felons who cannot find jobs, cannot receive public assistance, cannot live in public housing, and cannot vote. Children lose their parents. Communities are torn apart.

American Violet is a film everyone needs to see.