It's too easy to be tougher on drugs than your political opponent
warned us that it's not
enough to be angry at politicians and to denounce them. We'll have other
politicians; we'll have the same process. What he said is, give us some
cover, so that we can vote for at least a study, an analysis, an
examination of the possibility of new drug control policies.
I think it's not an overstatement to say that both political parties in America are playing dead when it comes to drug reform. Why is that? Because it's too easy to be tougher on drugs than your opponent. And we have to face the political reality of that.
How do we change that?
If we keep doing what we're doing now, in 10 years, will we have won the Drug War?
could get the law
enforcement community to say to the politicians, as we finally got them to
say on the issue of gun control, look, help us, we need help. How, what
would we do? Would that be cover?
Out of that came the Hoover Law Enforcement Summit, which was held last May. We invited the top leaders in American law enforcement -- and indeed our steering committee was composed of some of the most well known people in law enforcement -- and we had more than 50 agencies participate. We had a wonderful two day conference. Ethan [Nadelmann] started it with an overview of where we were in drug policy in the United States, and what's happening internationally. We had criminologists Jerry Skolnick from Berkeley, and Al Blumstein from Carnegie Mellon University.
Blumstein has done very important work, detailing the enormous increase in juvenile violence, the doubling of the homicide rate by firearms among teenagers, and related that directly to drug commerce and the easy availability of guns in inner cities. He has characterized the Drug War as an assault upon the African-American community, where police tactics are used routinely that would not be tolerated in a white middle class neighborhood for a week. And I was a police chief for 18 years in two of America's largest cities. Al Blumstein is right. We could never use the tactics that are used routinely. And that's why DPF (Drug Policy Foundation) deserves such enormous credit for making possible the Sentencing Project report, which I think is a bombshell that we all have to pick up and run with.
We had two federal judges, DPF board member [U.S. District Judge] Bob Sweet, and Vaughn Walker, from the San Francisco Federal Circuit, talk about the destruction that these drug cases and mandatory sentencing are causing in the court system. George Shultz, former Secretary of State, spoke and gave very eloquent evidence of his speaking out years ago, denouncing the Drug War as wrongheaded and not making sense economically. He introduced our keynote speaker, [Baltimore Mayor] Kurt Schmoke, who got a standing ovation from this audience of police chiefs -- and they're a tough group.
One of the tough questions to Mayor Schmoke was, how does this medicalization approach that you favor go over politically in your city? Because that's, after all, what's on their minds, as police chiefs. And he said, I go to meet with people in the community, and I ask them three questions: Do you think we've won the Drug War? And people just laugh. Do you think we're winning the Drug War? And people just shake their heads. And the third question is, if you think we keep doing what we're doing now, in 10 years, will we have won the Drug War?
Well, that's one of the reasons he got a standing ovation. Because he's not a professor some place, he's right in the front lines of a predominantly African-American city where drugs and crime and violence are problems. And he's a leader who has taken a position and survived reelection. And that earned him enormous respect, as well as the way in which he dealt so honestly with this subject.
In any event, after two days, we gave the people remaining an evaluation form, and it was outstanding. I had done some previous work, and knew that there was a great deal of disillusionment with the Drug War among law enforcement people. But in the evaluation that we did after this two day conference, we found 90 percent of the police leaders present repudiated, did not support the federal War on Drugs -- 90 percent. The other 10 percent didn't support the war. Those 90 percent were clearly against the war. The group was unanimous in saying that this was not a matter of criminal law -- it was more of a social and medical problem.
The group was unanimous in saying more treatment and more education would be more effective than more arrests and prisons. The group was unanimous in calling for a blue-ribbon panel to study the harm done by the Drug War and alternative methods of dealing with drugs. All of these things repudiated our national policy, and so I think that's very striking.
The Drug War will collapse as quickly as the Vietnam War, as soon as people find out what's really going on
was it that these law enforcement leaders, who after all
rely on arrests in their job as a normal way of doing business, why was it
they were so strongly opposed to this when they got the chance? Well their
comments were very revealing: they never had the chance before. They never
got an opportunity to think for two days and to hear different opinions.
Because the federal government controls the game. All of the conferences they go to are funded by the federal government. All of the speakers are either federal officials, who speak with one voice, or they are other people, recruited from different fields, who say what the government wants them to say, what they're getting paid to say.
The other reason is there's something very, very wrong going on in American policing. I'm going to just close by taking one minute to say that I think as sad as what we're seeing in American policing is, that it does hold some hope for reform for us.
We have experienced a wave of police scandals over the past five to 10 years that are quite different than anything we've seen historically. One reason that this is not so apparent is the very nature of American law enforcement is decentralized, because each city has its own law enforcement agency. The federal government, the DEA and the FBI, get a lot of publicity, but there are only a few thousand of them, believe it or not. And many of you are saying "Thank God," probably, at the moment. [Laughter.]
But we have from four to five hundred thousand local law enforcement, state and local law enforcement officials. Those are the guys filling the prisons that Mr. Bushnell mentioned. And 70 percent of their arrests are for possession of drugs. Now that doesn't mean 30 percent are big deal distributors.
The Drug War's a dirty war, and it's a racist war. The dealers, the people arrested for sale are like Joycelyn Elders' son. They're not bigshots. They're often people who got caught in the wrong place, and some agent of law enforcement is wired to get them, bid them up to higher and higher levels. And then they're ending up doing 10 and 15 years of a mandatory sentence.
The Drug War cannot stand the light of day. And that's my hope, that we can at least get some objective study of it. It will collapse as quickly as the Vietnam War, as soon as people find out what's really going on. And I think we can get that study, if we can mobilize the police, as we did in the first Hoover conference. We're aiming at another Hoover conference.
A nationwide pattern of police misconduct
to take a moment to talk about what you are sort of subtly
aware of, but because it's one story at a time, and because it's spread so
far geographically, we're unaware of the massive police scandals that have
been going on for a decade. In Boston, two white detectives frame an
African-American suspect for murdering a white woman, after her husband
complained that they were accosted and robbed in an intersection. It turns
out the husband did the murder, but it's only exposed after his suicide.
In New York, the police, once again, are exposed, in uniform, of conducting armed robberies, of beating people, of framing drug dealers, of selling drugs to the community. Similar cases in Philadelphia, Denver, Atlanta. In New Orleans, a new shock, a new level -- a police officer murders her partner and store owners, and then responds in uniform on patrol to the crime scene. She's convicted now. Her boyfriend was a drug dealer, by the way.
What we find in these police cases that's different, is the seriousness of the police misconduct. It's not some cops taking a bribe from some madam or bookie or something like that. It's cops doing armed robberies, beating people, even murders. It's falsification of evidence on a wholesale nature, in city after city. And it's easier to name cities that have not had scandals, than to name all the ones that have.
Not only that, it's not just the lower ranking narcs -- it goes up to the top. The police chief of Detroit, former chief, is in prison for stealing drug funds. Police chiefs in little New England towns stole drugs from their lockers. All kinds of sheriffs throughout the country have been convicted of actually dealing in drugs.
The formerly untouchables, the feds, now have their people in jail. The DEA agent that arrested General Noriega -- remember, the narco drug gangster that President Bush named as justification for invading Panama? Well, the DEA agent that arrested him is himself in prison, for stealing laundered drug money. An FBI agent had a very ingenious idea: he stole drugs from the evidence room, and mailed samples to the regional drug dealers, whose names he got from the FBI files, so they could determine the purity of the product, and what price would be appropriate. It's the market free enterprise system. [Laugher.]
So when we look at what's going on there, there's another couple of patterns that are important. Very often, the misconduct, the police crimes, are uncovered by outside agencies, not by the agency itself. And the standard defense that we get, whenever these crimes occur, is of course, we've always had a few rotten apples, and we have to do a better job at getting them. We're not all Mark Fuhrman's, and so on. The majority of cops, thank god, are honest and not racist. But, the code of silence in those agencies is allowing those officers to do what they do. And so we have to appeal to the rank and file. The police leadership has to move beyond the tradition, and this is a wake-up call that's occurring.
The verdict in the Simpson case has angered the police all over the country, saying how could the jury just disregard the evidence so quickly and not pay any attention. The [Million Man] march on Washington will also anger some people. But what that jury did should not surprise us. It didn't surprise me. And it wasn't just a reaction to the Rodney King case, or to Mark Fuhrman. It's a decade long reaction in every large city across the country, and it can be traced back to the Drug War treatment that people are getting in the inner city, and their anger at the racism and the unfairness of the enforcement that's going on on a daily basis. Almost always, the victims of the police crimes are minorities, are African Americans or other minorities.
So the public opinion polls, that for 10 years have been showing eroding credibility of law enforcement, don't show it as serious a problem among whites, for very good reason. The whites aren't as sensitive to it, because they're not the victims of this kind of police misconduct. And it's inconceivable for white people to think that a black Mark Fuhrman would be allowed to exist in a police agency. But we know, in all the large agencies in the country, there are plenty of Mark Furhman's, who go on and on, and are not purged out of those organizations. Well, the inner city communities know that too, and the juries know that as well.
When you're telling cops that they're soldiers in a Drug War, you're destroying the whole concept of the citizen peace officer
all of these things, the violence, the tremendous
corruption, are one of the reasons that are leading more and more people
in law enforcement, who are responsible for these agencies, to begin a
healthy self scrutiny. When you're telling cops that they're soldiers in a
Drug War, you're destroying the whole concept of the citizen peace
officer, a peace officer whose fundamental duty is to protect life and be
a community servant.
General Colin Powell told us during the Persian Gulf War what a soldier's duty is. It's to kill the enemy. And when we allowed our politicians to push cops into a war that they'll never win, they can't win, and let them begin to think of themselves as soldiers, the mentality comes that anything goes. We look at the rationalization of the crooked cops in New York, who robbed the drug dealers -- guess what?
The Los Angeles sheriff's deputies who robbed the drug dealers here had the same rationalization. They said, why should these guys keep all the money? They're animals. They're enemy. And they told the drug dealers, you're nothing, you have no rights, we can do whatever we want. It's a war, after all. When former police chief Daryl Gates made his famous statement in Congress, that casual drug users should be taken out and shot -- it was before the United States Senate, by the way, not in some cop beer hall [laughter] -- he assured the Senators he wasn't being facetious. Well, when he came back home, the LA Times said, did you really say that? And Chief Gates said look, we're in a war.
And all kinds of police misconduct has occurred, the most serious which is the cops who think of themselves as being innocent good guys, are routinely violating the Fourth Amendment, routinely committing perjury. I'm going to end now, but I think, you know, it boggles the mind, how many defendants do give consent and get searched when they have drugs on them, and say "Sure, officer, open my trunk." [Laughter.]
How many times are they cooperative enough to have the drugs in plain view, so that it's admissible evidence. There's a certain healthy skepticism that the court has not yet taken judicial notice of. But I think these things are a wake-up call for law enforcement. We can trace back this changing police behavior to a kind of malaise, in which good cops and bad cops alike have been conditioned to think they can do whatever they want, because after all, this is a problem that can only be solved by a War.
In the end, I hope that we will hold our next conference with full media support. One of the chiefs suggested, why put it all on the police? Let's get the mayors here, and the public health officials, and the police chiefs, and let's all recognize that we're in this together. And at the next conference, we hope to have the media present, and maybe begin to get out to the politicians the information that it's really safe to call for a study of what is an atrocious and indefensible public policy. It's not political suicide -- it's something that you owe to your constituents.
Dr. Joseph McNamara is a veteran of the New York City Police Department and is former Chief of Police of Kansas City and San Jose. He is currently a Research Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.
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