Barbara Fair; New Haven, Connecticut
Recent Drug War news items from Connecticut
Barbara is also active with People Against Injustice, a grassroots organization in New Haven that works for reforms in the criminal justice system. Its members are a mixture of people directly affected by the unjust penal system and other citizens outraged by what is happening.
Story by Barbara Fair -- Photos by Melinda Tuhus
The day was dreary in New Haven (CT), but it didn't discourage drug war reformers traveling from as far away as Indiana who gathered to educate a diverse audience about the injustices of the drug war. The drug policy conference was held inside Yale University's Dwight Hall Chapel on Saturday, May 2, 2009.
Ira Glasser, former National ACLU Director and now board president of Drug Policy Alliance, headed the lists of panelists/speakers. His speech portrayed the drug war as a revival of the Jim Crow Laws that prevailed in the South from the 1890s into 1950s, a set of laws that paved the way to renewed legal subjugation of African Americans in America. He went on to explain how Jim Crow repression succeeded slavery and how the drug war succeeded Jim Crow, both of which successfully removed African Americans from society.
He was followed by a panel of speakers that first included internationally respected drug policy activist, Cliff Thornton, executive director of Efficacy and two LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) spokesmen, Richard VanWickler, Superintendant of Corrections in New Hampshire and Joseph Brooks, retired police captain from Manchester, CT. Speaking next were Lorenzo Jones, executive director of A Better Way Foundation, and Connecticut State Senator Martin Looney, who introduced a bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in the state legislature this session.
Kemba Smith, a former prisoner of the drug war, traveled from Indianapolis to share her story of being sentenced to 24 years as a first time drug law violator, even though prosecutors admitted that she never used, held or sold drugs. She was charged for crimes her former boyfriend committed. Her sentence was commuted in 2000 by President Bill Clinton after serving nearly seven years in prison. Since release she has traveled the country telling her story, attended law school, and plans to marry soon. Her speech was followed by words from a group of local activists including criminal defense attorneys Michael Jefferson and Norm Pattis, Youth mentors' Officer Shafiq Abdussabar and Shelton Tucker, and a Youth Rights Media alumnus, Matt Mitchell.
It was a gathering of some of the most committed leaders in the movement to end the US War on Drugs which began four decades ago under Richard Nixon's administration and accelerated rapidly in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan's reign. In early 1970s there were 1.4 million people addicted to drugs. In 2009, forty years later, there are 1.4 million people addicted to drugs; prohibited drugs are cheaper, more accessible and purer than 40 years ago, motivating activists to challenge all validity of the war on drugs. Reliable research now reports that 1.5 million Americans are arrested every year for drug law offenses, and 75% of those arrests are for simple possession of marijuana.
Richard Van Wickler
The war on drugs is the main feeder to an exploding prison system that has become one of the fastest growing industries in this country. America incarcerates more of its citizens than anywhere else in the world. No proportion of the US prison population has grown faster than African Americans. The greatest racial disparity is seen nationally among men ages 25-29 where Whites are incarcerated at the rate of 1,685 per 100,000, Latinos at 3,192 per 100,000 and African Americans an astounding 11,695 per 100,000. Today, there are 7 million Americans incarcerated, on parole or probation.
To cap the afternoon, a film -- The American Drug War: The Last White Hope -- was shown, captivating the audience with revelations of US involvement in supplying cocaine to the streets of urban America where eventually the crack epidemic took hold and devastated the lives of millions of Americans. The film depicted congressional hearings held in Washington DC in which former CIA and DEA agents and former presidents were questioned about their involvement in supplying the neighborhoods of Los Angeles with cocaine and then arresting the people who sold and used it.
The drug policy conference was hosted by People Against Injustice, a New Haven based grassroots organization seeking criminal justice and prison reform. Sponsors were Yale SLAM, Yale Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and November Coalition.
February 23, 2009 -- Yale Daily News (CT)
Police Welcome New Dogs
By Colin Ross, Staff Reporter
On Saturday night, New Haven residents turned out in force to celebrate New Haven's newest four-legged officers: Nia and Orvis.
The two canines -- the city's newest narcotics dogs -- will soon be trained to sniff out illicit substances and accompany officers on patrol. The celebration, held at Christopher Martin's Restaurant on State Street, was sponsored by the SoHu Block Watch Association and had well over 150 visitors who paid $15 in support of the K-9 Unit. Local and federal officials also turned out in support, but the use of police dogs remained a source of controversy for some in the community.
The restaurant was teeming with people at 10:30 p.m., the music blaring, drinks flowing. And throughout the night, attendees bought raffle tickets for a variety of products from local businesses, including foods, drinks -- and dog biscuits.
SoHu Block Watch Association President Lisa Siedlarz was happy with the turnout and the level of enthusiasm.
"It's great to have so many people come out and support a good cause," she said. "It's a good sign for the community."
Among the more supportive attendees was Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who stayed for about 15 minutes expressing support for the K-9 Unit. The mayor was not exempt from the $15 entrance fee. Standing at the back of the restaurant with Nia, Detective Jodi Novella, one of the dog's handlers, said she was impressed with the turnout.
Also present to support the NHPD were two FBI agents from a local office, both of whom declined to give their names.
"I think the dogs are good for the Department," one said. "We work with them on narcotics, and this is a great tool."
Still, despite the public support of many city officials, some New Haven residents were concerned about what the narcotics dogs suggest about New Haven.
Community activist Barbara Fair thought the dogs meant a continued break with community-friendly policing.
"I'm totally disgusted," she said. "I would be ashamed if the community allows this."
Fair also pointed to NHPD Chief James Lewis' plan to put rifles in most patrol cars as a similar mistake.
"It would turn our community into a war zone," she said. "I have never seen the need for dogs or guns in our community."
But Police Chief Lewis defended both the narcotics dogs and rifles as smart policing tactics. For Lewis, the issue is not whether to have dogs, but where the dogs come from. Lewis pointed out that for now, the city gets its dogs from state authorities.
"[But] if we have our own dogs," he said, "then we know what the training program is, they're responsible to our community."
As for the rifles, Lewis acknowledged that while they could create controversy, he said he felt the officers desperately needed them.
"They may never use 'em," he said. "But the one time they need that rifle, everybody in this community will be glad they had it the one time they need it. So that to me is a no-brainer."
Once trained, Novella said, the dogs will be able to sniff all types of drugs and will ultimately conduct drug searches when officers execute warrants.
While the crowd was a large one, some had thoughts other than the K-9 unit on their minds. For Bill Croucher, 40, and his friend Joel Liseio, alcohol was the main attraction.
"We're just here to get drunk," said Croucher. "Really drunk," Liseio chimed in.
"I mean, I smoke pot," Croucher said within sight of the two K-9 detectives. "I don't really care about drug dogs."
Nia and Orvis are expected to see active service as soon as training is completed.
May 30, 2007 - New Haven Independent (CT)
by Melinda Tuhus
These New Haveners (Dramese Fair, T.J. Tucker and Patrick Falconer, left to right, holding the banner) came to the State Capitol Wednesday to ask a question: What if so-called "drug-free zones" protected kids near schools rather than brand entire cities?
Their question was part of "Racial Justice Day."
About 50 people from groups that included New Haven-based groups like People Against Injustice, Youth Rights Media and Fight the Hike rallied on the shady side of the Capitol and spoke animatedly with each other as they waited almost an hour for the event to begin, as organizers tried to round up supportive legislators to address the crowd. The lawmakers were having a busy day inside.
Co-Emcee Barbara Fair of New Haven (pictured below) laid out the reason for the gathering -- to discuss legislation proposed by grassroots groups around the state and hold legislators accountable to their constituents in the community.
Issues included all those on the sign held by New Havener and former Connecticut House Speaker Irv Stolberg (pictured below), who was there on behalf of the Connecticut Network to Abolish the Death Penalty. The connection with racial justice is that, according to a handout from the group, "Statistical reviews in Connecticut have found significant evidence that killers of white victims are more likely to be sentenced to death than killers of African American victims. African Americans are the victims in 44% of all Connecticut homicides, yet as of October 2006, 86% of the people on Connecticut's death row [of eight people] are there for killing white victims."
Emcee Barbara Fair of People Against Injustice
Former Connecticut House Speaker Irv Stolberg
Sally Joughin, from People Against Injustice, said her top priority is creation of a Commission on Prison Oversight to make the Department of Correction accountable for treatment of its 19,000 predominantly black and Latino inmates. The bill her group submitted required participation by various stakeholders, but in the Judiciary Committee it was transformed to create an advisory group appointed solely by the Commissioner of Corrections, with none of those groups of participants mandated to be included. Joughin said, "The commissioner can ask advice of anyone she wants to -- she doesn't need an legislation creating an advisory group for that."
The Alliance CT was promoting drug-free school zone reform that would reduce the zone (within which extra criminal penalties apply) from 1,500 to 200 feet around schools and enforce the restriction only during school hours.
The group also supports removing day care centers and public housing from coverage under the drug-free zone, because the law as currently constituted makes a drug-free zone of entire urban areas. The proposal would shift resources from simple enforcement to treatment and education.
"Reforming school zone laws is about making these laws actually protect children instead of over-incarcerating urban residents," said a press release handed out at the event, adding that currently 50 percent of Connecticut's total male prison population comes from Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven.
State Rep. Chris Caruso of Bridgeport was one of a few lawmakers who came out to praise the crowd for being pro-active and fighting for what they believed in.
State Rep. Marie Kirkley-Bey of Hartford highlighted the efforts to reform the drug-free zones and to raise the age at which juveniles are treated like adults in the criminal justice system from 16 to 18. She also thanked people for coming out, but said, "You're too late." Since the session is winding down and ends June 6 (although a special session will be called after that), she urged them to keep organizing and come back early in the legislative process next year.
After the rally, people went inside the Legislative Office Building to lobby their elected officials.
August 30, 2006 - New Haven Independent (CT)
Speakers Target A Criminal Injustice System
by Melinda Tuhus
Rodney Lewis (pictured above) spent almost four years in a Connecticut prison, most of it in maximum security. At a packed public hearing on prison reform Tuesday night in the City's Hall's aldermanic chambers, he said, "Every time they put the cuffs and chains on me, I would lose a piece of myself, of my dignity." And that wasn't the worst part.
The forum was sponsored by People Against Injustice, a New Haven-based criminal justice reform group, and organized by Barbara Fair (pictured below, reading a letter from an inmate describing abysmal prison conditions). Fair is perhaps Connecticut's most passionate opponent of the war on drugs that puts thousands of mostly non-violent criminals behind bars in Connecticut alone. (The majority of the state's 18,000 prisoners are there for drug-related offenses.) Fair wanted a forum in New Haven because many local people are unable to get to all the public hearings on proposed legislation held in Hartford.
The first speaker was Rodney Lewis. He said he was picked up on the street for selling drugs and ended up in the "super max" facility at Northern Correctional Facility not because he was violent but because he was insubordinate. He described the isolation, the humiliations, the threats and harassment by the correction officers. He described an equal-opportunity racialized atmosphere, with white guards calling black prisoners "nigger" and black guards calling white prisoners "cracker."
The worst part, Lewis said, was feeling everyone else's pain as well as his own, knowing that people couldn't cope with their environment. To listen to his statement, click here.
Barbara Fair told the crowd that her own son, imprisoned on a drug charge, was put in maximum security six years ago when he was just 18 because he couldn't cope with prison and was having mental health problems. The conditions there just made things worse, she said. "That was the worst experience I ever went through in my life," said Fair. Her son was transferred out of super max after a few months.
Mary Johnson and Caroline Bridgman-Rees (pictured above) are activist octogenarians and members of People Against Injustice. "The stories are just unbelievable," Johnson said. "There are so many thousands of people right here in this state who have been affected, who shouldn't have been in prison in the first place, and the conditions are just horrible."
Later in the evening, a group of Yale students came in, eager to work on criminal justice issues. Several state legislators also attended, including state Rep. Toni Walker and state Sen. Toni Harp from New Haven. Alice Tracy came too; she's the mother of David Tracy, who committed suicide at age 20 a few years go while incarcerated at Wallens Ridge super-max prison in Virginia (one of almost 500 Connecticut prisoners who were sent out of state by then-Governor John Rowland to ease prison overcrowding).
Fair was ebullient after the hearing. She was encouraged by the number of people who attended and the range of experience represented students, legislators, community activists and ex-prisoners. She said the immediate goal of People Against Injustice is to grow its membership and spread information to the public and lawmakers about the reality of Connecticut prisons and why they need to be reformed.
People Against Injustice, (203)787-5262, PO Box 1035, New Haven, CT 06504
Full article, including reader comments, available at www.newhavenindependent.org/archives/2006/08/criminal_justic.php
© 2005-2006 New Haven Independent
March 25, 2006 - New Haven Register (CT)
Hearing Debates Merits, Drawbacks Of 'Drug-Free Zones'
By Gregory B. Hladky , Capitol Bureau Chief
HARTFORD - Connecticut's "drug-free zone" law is ineffective in combating drug crime and unfair to minority urban residents who have become its primary targets, critics of the law argued Friday.
"What we're asking for is equity," said Barbara Fair, of the New Haven-based People Against Injustice group.
A bill that would reduce the size of drug-free zones around schools, day-care centers and public housing projects from the current 1,500 feet to 200 feet was the focus of debate at a legislative public hearing Friday.
Fair and other activists said the existing law, which specifies mandatory minimum prison terms for anyone caught selling or possessing drugs within the zones, has contributed to the massive racial disparity in Connecticut prisons.
Dawn Fuller Ball, of Alliance Connecticut, said the incarceration rate for blacks in this state is 13 times the rate for whites.
There are so many drug-free zones in densely populated urban centers that they now cover nearly all cities like New Haven, Hartford and Bridgeport.
The activists claim that since the mandatory sentences now apply to virtually an entire city, drug dealers simply ignore the zones.
However, Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano insisted that the proposed change "essentially guts the drug-free zones" and "sends the wrong message to those who are committing the violence and turning neighborhoods into battle zones."
"This is not about addressing social, economic or racial injustice," Morano said during his testimony before the legislature's Judiciary Committee, "but rather about standing up for the innocent, law-abiding citizens -- especially the most vulnerable -- and standing together against those who would break the law."
Supporters of the proposed change pointed to studies showing that very few drug arrests on school grounds have been made in Connecticut since the drug-free zone law went into effect.
"I'm so tired of hearing that same old rhetoric about soft on crime," said Fair.
She said the war on drugs has effectively become "a war on the poor."
Sally Joughin of New Haven said the law is being used to force black and Hispanic residents to agree to plea bargains in order to avoid the stiff mandatory sentences.
She called the effect of the law "discrimination against those who live in urban areas."
Gregory B. Hladky can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (860) 524-0719.
March 27, 2004
No Justice In Drug War In New Haven
"There is no justice in the war on drugs," chanted protestors in a Connecticut courtroom one day last June. People Against Injustice, Critical Resistance, Yale SLAM, along with other community groups staged a protest inside and outside the New Haven Courthouse during a hearing for one of PAI's members, Shelton Tucker.
Like many Black and Latino youth arrested, in this case for possession of marijuana, Tucker insisted he was falsely accused -- no drugs were found on him -- and refused to plead guilty. And like most defendants in drug war cases, the judge threatened Tucker with a maximum sentence of eight years if a jury found him guilty. After several frustrating hearings, and with little hope for a fair trial, Tucker did what most accused do in these blackmail-type cases -- pled guilty.
Protestors joined Shelton as he stood before the judge and -- after Shelton was given a suspended sentence and probation -- rose up in the courtroom with black gags over their mouths. Shelton's mother, and a PAI member, displayed and carried the November Coalition's banner "There is no justice in the war on drugs" as the support group left the courthouse.
Outside the courthouse, the group spoke about the injustices that occur there on a daily basis, as spectators looked on. Cars honked their horns in support of the lively group, as they vowed to continue fighting for criminal justice and prison reform.
People Against Injustice activists Barbara Fair and Sally Joughin, along with other members and other community groups, organized and staged a Journey for Justice in New Haven in March of 2004. The Journey depicted the trail of injustices that occur every day in the city.
About 50 people gathered outside the New Haven Police Department on a hot, humid day holding signs with messages speaking of the 30-year-old, failed drug war in this country. The police station was the first of three stops. Second was the County Courthouse, and then on to the Jail where thousands are being held in crowded conditions due to excessive bail. Most of these detainees are in jail due to drug charges. In Connecticut over 65% of the nearly 20,000 prisoners have been convicted of nonviolent crimes.
The Journey march included members of PAI and other grassroots' organizations whose common mission is criminal justice and prison reform. A major concern of everyone is drug policy and enforcement reform. Others on this special Journey included family members of the confined, Yale University students, members of the International Socialist Organization, and other individual community activists.
Speeches were given at each site. Cars honked horns loudly in support of the marchers. Afterwards, everyone gathered at a local community center where youth came together in dialogue about their experiences with police harassment, illegal searches, racial profiling and police misconduct within their community.
Behind such honest sharing to end the day Journeyers went home aroused with the power of people united in righteous cause.
Thanks to Barbara Fair for this report and photos.
Barbara Fair speaking at the March & Vigil outside of New Haven Jail
Journey for Justice, October 22, 2002
January 20, 2004 - New Haven Register (CT)
Crowd Slams Jammed Prisons
By Natalie Missakian, Register Staff
NEW HAVEN - The temperatures were frigid and protesters had to jockey for spots on a single snow-cleared path down the middle of the Elm Street courthouse steps.
But despite less-than-ideal conditions, about 50 people bearing candles and flashlights braved the cold to send a message to state lawmakers about prison overcrowding Monday night.
"I believe if Dr. Martin Luther King were here, he'd be fighting for this issue," said Shelton Tucker, an organizer of Monday's candlelight vigil, which coincided with the holiday celebrating the life of the slain civil rights leader.
The vigil was held to push for state legislation, tabled last session, to address prison overcrowding.
Lawmakers had considered changing the criminal justice system so that criminals arrested on technical violations of their parole or probation would be less likely to be sent to jail.
They also hoped to give judges more discretion when sentencing and weed out inmates with mental illness and substance abuse problems.
"Good legislation has been proposed again and again," said Barbara Fair, Tucker's mother and an organizer of People Against Injustice. "We are here to say: 'No more delays'."
The group also wants the state to halt the controversial practice of sending Connecticut inmates to prisons out of state.
"A lot of people who are incarcerated have families that live in poverty," said Tucker, who has three brothers incarcerated in Connecticut, including one who just returned to the state from a Virginia prison.
"It's hard for them, if not impossible, to see their loved ones."
Three years ago, the same group staged a Martin Luther King Jr. Day vigil outside the home of then-state Department of Correction Commissioner John Armstrong.
That rally called attention to the deaths of two Connecticut inmates while incarcerated at the Wallens Ridge correctional facility in Virginia.
Connecticut inmates have since been removed from Wallens Ridge, but are still being sent to other out-of-state prisons.
"When people don't learn anything (from the past), history repeats itself," said Sally Joughin, another PAI organizer.
In addition to King, the protesters also remembered the late state Sen. Alvin Penn, the Bridgeport lawmaker who fought ardently against the prison transfers.
Fair said the state recently authorized the transfer of 2,000 more inmates out of state, up from 500 when Penn took a stand against the transfers.
"He fought against what (Gov. John G.) Rowland has accomplished in less than a year after (Penn's) death," Fair said.
State Rep. Patricia Dillon, D-92, said second chances in the criminal justice system shouldn't depend on one's income level or skin color.
"There are some people who are powerful enough to get redeemed when they mess up, but there are others who don't get that chance," she said.
Natalie Missakian can be reached at nmissakian@nhregister.
©New Haven Register 2004
Journey for Justice: Report from New Haven
From Cliff Thornton - 10/24/02
Mark Kinzley, an outstanding outreach harm reducitionist, who works for Dr. Robert Hymer of Yale University said, "the forum last night was the best ever for New Haven, bar none". October 22nd marked the second stop for The Journey for Justice in New Haven, CT, with a march that stopped at three locations, police headquarters, the main courthouse and the local jail. The marchers, some seventy strong, were a mix of young, old, students, teachers, preachers, and politicians that were filmed at every location. I did not attend the march so I will let Nora and Chuck give their impression. The eleven o'clock news showed the marches at the three locations.
March & Vigil outside of New Haven Jail: Journey for Justice, October 22, 2002
A forum was held after the march which featured a Columbian activist (John Lugo), a community activist (Barbara Fair), Nora and Chuck. A hundred and three people attended. The eleven o'clock news had a five minute segment featuring Barbara Fair (People Against Injustice), one of the organizers plus Chuck and Nora. Five groups helped organize the two-hour forum that started with everyone giving their name and a brief description of how the drug war has affected them. With the energy level at a fever pitch, Nora blew the roof off with her presentation. During the Q&A Chuck talked about his experience with the Black Panthers and you could see the Black people rally to his side. This event will really push the activists groups in the New Haven area to produce other forums. I have had three calls this morning wanting to have four such events in the coming year.
The Brad Davis talk radio show started the first leg, which has a listener audience of over one million. Interesting note: four major newspapers in the state have or are presently running a four or five part series on drug war issues, which have appeared over the last two months. The latest series is in the Hartford paper entitled "Heroin Town". Nora, Chuck and I were walking into the studio and we found a syringe on the ground. We brought it into the studio; what a perfect lead in, because the host immediately brought up "Heroin Town". Brad Davis is going to sponsor four hour long public TV shows featuring Efficacy and the Drug War next year.
I will let Chuck and Nora give their impressions of the forum at Wesleyan University; they were just great. The next time I will not go easy on scheduling. I will say that there were "runners" from some of the politicians at both events. Let me close by saying that I would love to help sponsor another Journey for Justice tour.
Recent Drug War news items from Connecticut
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