The Failed War at Home
I have commented frequently about this nation's fiscally wasteful, socially destructive, needlessly punitive, and hypocritical drug war whose casualties are disproportionately poor and people of color. The Drug War is a critical issue for America, yet often ignored by our leaders and legislatures or preempted by domestic issues such as Social Security and health care. You will likely not hear a single question or discussion about the Drug War during the upcoming debates among presidential candidates.
Recently I received a letter (not personally) from Walter Cronkite, former anchorman for the CBS Evening News, on behalf of the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization promoting drug policy reform, that addressed the failures and travesties of this backward battle. I include a portion of the letter below:
"Today, our nation is fighting two wars: one abroad and one at home. While the war in Iraq is in the headlines, the other war is still being fought on our own streets. Its casualties are the wasted lives of our own citizens. ...
And I cannot help but wonder how many more lives, and how much more money, will be wasted before another Robert McNamara admits what is plain for all to see: the war on drugs is a failure. ...
The politicians stutter and stall --- while they chase their losses by claiming we could win this war if only we committed more resources, jailed more people and knocked down more doors. ...
When I wanted to understand the truth about the war on drugs, I took the same approach I did to the war in Vietnam: I hit the streets and reported the story myself. I sought out the people whose lives this war has affected. ...
Nicole Richardson was 18-years-old when her boyfriend, Jeff, sold nine grams of LSD to undercover federal agents. She had nothing to do with the sale. There was no reason to believe she was involved in drug dealing in any way. But then an agent posing as another dealer called and asked to speak with Jeff. Nicole replied that he wasn't home, but gave the man a number where she thought Jeff could be reached.
An innocent gesture? It sounds that way to me. But to federal prosecutors, simply giving out a phone number made Nicole Richardson part of a drug dealing conspiracy. Under draconian mandatory minimum sentences, she was sent to federal prison for ten years without possibility of parole.
To pile irony on top of injustice, her boyfriend --- who actually knew something about dealing drugs --- was able to trade information for a reduced sentence of five years. Precisely because she knew nothing, Nicole had nothing with which to barter.
Then there was Jan Warren, a single mother who lived in New Jersey with her teenage daughter. Pregnant, poor and desperate, Jan agreed to transport eight ounces of cocaine to a cousin in upstate New York. Police officers were waiting at the drop-off point, and Jan --- five months pregnant and feeling ill --- was cuffed and taken in.
Did she commit a crime? Sure. But what awaited Jan Warren defies common sense and compassion alike. Under New York's infamous Rockefeller Drug Laws, Jan --- who miscarried soon after the arrest --- was sentenced to 15 years to life. Her teenage daughter was sent away, and Jan was sent to an eight-by-eight cell.
In Tulia, Texas, an investigator fabricated evidence that sent more than one out of every ten of the town's African American residents to jail on trumped-up drug charges in one of the most despicable travesties of justice this reporter has ever seen.
The federal government has fought terminally ill patients whose doctors say medical marijuana could provide a modicum of relief from their suffering --- as though a cancer patient who uses marijuana to relieve the wrenching nausea caused by chemotherapy is somehow a criminal who threatens the public.
People who do genuinely have a problem with drugs, meanwhile, are being imprisoned when what they really need is treatment.
And what is the impact of this policy? It surely hasn't made our streets safer. Instead, we have locked up literally millions of people ... disproportionately people of color ... who have caused little or no harm to others --- wasting resources that could be used for counter-terrorism, reducing violent crime, or catching white-collar criminals.
With police wielding unprecedented powers to invade privacy, tap phones and conduct searches seemingly at random, our civil liberties are in a very precarious condition. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on this effort --- with no one held accountable for its failure.
Amid the cliches of the drug war, our country has lost sight of the scientific facts. Amid the frantic rhetoric of our leaders, we've become blind to reality: The war on drugs, as it is currently fought, is too expensive, and too inhumane.
But nothing will change until someone has the courage to stand up and say what so many politicians privately know: The war on drugs has failed."
As Cronkite would often say as a sign-off from his broadcast: "And that's the way it is."