Tom Murlowski; Colville, Washington
Recent Drug War news items from Washington
Petitions, Projects and Campaigns Back in the Home Office TRAFFIC: Hollywood tackles the drug war Spokane Vigil leads 11:00 News Taking it to the streets Locked Away And Forgotten Los Angeles Police Corruption Investigated Messages and Mumbo-Jumbo To take His name in vain Other times and other lands 1998 -The Year in Reform No Newt is good Newt! Governor-Elect speaks out against Drug War On the move
The Razor Wire, Winter 2003/Spring 2004, Vol. 7 No. 2
From the desk of Tom Murlowski
Petitions, Projects and Campaigns
In addition to publishing The Razor Wire newspaper periodically, producing brochures, displays and keeping pertinent news and resources online, our plans and evaluations for the future begin with feedback from our members. We translate many types of communications into improved public education materials. Your input is critical.
Our challenge, as more legislative support for prisoner release and enforcement reform becomes apparent, is to teach more people to be leaders for other citizens to work with locally. Good elected leaders need the support of their local community. That is where the votes to keep them office, and give them more power in office, come from. If a leader doesn't have to fear backlash and criticisms from their own community, and their citizens are behind them on a particular issue -- they can be more vocal in Congress. Perhaps it's a mayor you have in mind; if citizens are behind them, it makes leadership work.
The same formula works to deal with bad leaders. Community support for reform should support good candidates who can defeat leaders that further injustice with bad law.
To make some educational materials widely available and accessible, so that community education remains current and interesting, during summer 2003 we re-designed and expanded our websites at:
Thanks goes to MAPInc, aka DrugSense (www.drugsense.org),who provide us with a continuous news feed that gives visitors daily news updates on subjects our members want to follow closely. Visitors to our websites have easy access to the following projects and campaigns in progress today.
Bottoms Up: Guide to Grassroots Activism - A comprehensive, step-by-step primer on how to educate the public to get the social change we want. When Chuck and Nora returned from the Journey For Justice that ended in spring, we took what we learned collectively during the experience, and compiled a guide that helps people do the work of organizing and activism in their community.
Useful for beginning and seasoned organizers, this how-to manual covers topics such as Organizing a Public Event or Private Meeting with Officials, Designing Flyers and Posters, Working with Others, Leading a Demonstration, progressing to Building a Relationship with the Media and Elected Officials.
Also included is a generous sampling of artwork, press release examples, educational literature, studies and reports, graphs and displays to share with the public, meeting forms, and other resources for organizers of different levels of skill. Educational Supplies include banners, posters, brochures, full displays and periodicals.
The November Coalition offers a variety of materials for public education, vigils, and meetings. Contact our office or visit our websites for details of what is offered.
A noteworthy, continuing Coalition educational campaign is the National Vigil Project, a plan created four years ago to encourage regular drug war vigils throughout the nation. Regular public vigils throughout 1999 and into year 2000 built up interest in a 2 Million Too Many national event, a coordinated series of demonstrations, vigils, press exposure and other actions calling attention to the 2 million prisoners in America in custody as of February 15, 2000. Today, these vigils continue under coordination of local volunteers and alliances with other groups. If you need posters for vigils, an educational display, or other materials I'm the guy you can ask. Write or call our office; online, I can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Petition for Relief from Drug War Injustice, launched spring of 2002, continues a tradition of direct, grassroots organizing that relies on a nationwide base of volunteers. Noting the failure of current sentencing policy, the Petition for Relief asks for a return to federal parole and/or a significant increase in good-time eligibility. The Coalition has committed to continue this effort until significant, broad sentencing relief is signed into law. Almost 50,000 signatures have been collected, with more coming in every day (see state-by-state breakdown here). The objectives of The Petition for Relief Campaign are to:
Four That Got Away - A graphic expose of the hypocrisy of the drug war, featuring a comparison of four political figures (life-sized or posters) who are also acknowledged illegal drug users.
These laminated images are Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Vice-President Al Gore, and past Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. For teaching by contrast, we include a selection of drug war prisoners sentenced to years and decades in prison. If you, or a group you belong to, would like to have a Four That Got Away display and/or brochures, visit, call or write our office today.
Open The Can: A CANpaign for Freedom - continues to raise public awareness about the injustice of current United States' sentencing laws, and teaches how failed policies have created overcrowded human warehouses. There's something fishy about the war on drugs is the message. It's printed on T-shirts, and labels that can be applied to standard sardine cans and go directly through the mail educating all who handle it on the way to your intended recipient.
All of this is the result of hundreds of interactions among prisoners, family members of prisoners, advisers, media colleagues handled by our small home office staff. Please get in touch with our office if you have questions, comments and suggestions for present or future, coordinated November Coalition activism.
The Journey for Justice, launched Autumn 2002, has already reached many areas of the United States, and has logged almost 25,000 miles thus far. Events on the schedule have included college forums, neighborhood meetings, vigils, marches, discussions with officials, media interviews, church presentations, private meetings, debates, potlucks and more.
Journey for Justice springs from the extreme need and aspirations of thousands of drug war prisoners and their loved ones victimized by unjust drug and sentencing laws. We journey for justice to fortify resolve and awaken the dignity of ordinary people assaulted daily by a drug war that isn't a war on drugs -- but a war on people.
As our team travels the country, grassroots activists and community leaders gather to voice their concerns about the war on drugs. Journey for Justice events include meetings large and small, in urban areas and small towns. In public and private forums, we introduce others to the people behind the statistics that rank the USA as world's leading jailer.
We are inviting our friends and supporters to a picnic in the park, a teach-in at your local college, a civics club presentation, a breakfast or informal potluck with your close friends and family. Join activists, volunteers and other groups nationwide who are building a 'from the bottom up' movement that will assist leaders and policy makers in ending drug war injustice.
Many people share the notion that there is real power to end the US Drug War residing in common, ordinary people. Opinion makers and leaders insist they need grassroots' support to affect change, and ordinary people respond to leaders in the US Congress willing to turn that support into reform legislation. As the rhyme goes, it 'takes two' to make this process true.
Local organizers are people like you -- citizens who recognize that it is a disgrace that the United States allows so many people to be warehoused in prison for non-violent drug offenses. The problems associated with illegal drugs need sensible solutions.
A tour of the northwest will take place in February and March, 2004. Please visit the website at www.JouneyForJustice.org to register as a journey volunteer and watch the progress of emerging schedules.
PAFOI! is an emerging project to complement the Journey for Justice. Putting a Face On It will cover the expense of transforming a typical motorhome into a display on wheels! Wherever we journey, we intend that November Coalition Faces and Message are viewed by the public. To designate a special donation for this project, please write 'PAFOI' in the memo line of your check or money order, along with the amount you would like to designate to this special project.
The latest addition to our web site is our expanded Federal Parole section, including our Petition for Relief, current and past legislation concerning early release, and several proposals for early release submitted by prisoners.
Brochures, books, graphs, posters, banners, t-shirts, projects and more . . . We have supplies for you!
Visit our Activist Supplies Web Page today!
The Razor Wire, January 2003, Vol. 7 No. 1
Back in the Home Office
Well, it appears I've re-enlisted with Nora, Chuck and The November Coalition.
Some of you might remember me from several years ago, when I moved from Southern California to Colville to be Associate Director of TNC. I was highly motivated, having just witnessed a dear friend named Suzan sent to federal prison on drug conspiracy charges. Even though the Coalition's mission was so serious, and sometimes unbearably heart-breaking, those years were just about the most exciting and rewarding time of my life. I worked harder than I ever had, met many wonderful people in the activist community, and even learned to chop wood to stay warm in the winter. The only drawback was that I missed my family and friends in California.
Two-and-a-half years ago my brother John asked me to help out his family. John is a feature film director in Hollywood, and had committed just about all of his time and resources to a film he co-wrote, co-produced and directed: Black Cadillac, starring Randy Quaid. John had stretched himself pretty thin, and he and his wife Dâna (a full-time substance-abuse therapist) needed someone to watch over Mariah and Sophia, their twin baby girls. In short, they needed -- a nanny.
It was a tough decision for me, complicated by the fact that as a life-long bachelor, I had zero experience with small children. I'd never changed a diaper in my life! After much deliberation, I seized the opportunity to be with my family. Turns out I was pretty a good nanny; at least my nieces seem to think so.
After spending every day with them, watching them take their first steps and say their first words, I've grown to love those girls as much as if they were my own. They're four-and-a-half now, and in their first year of full-time pre-school. They no longer require a full-time nanny. I needed a new direction in my life-or maybe an old one?
As Nora, Chuck and the Coalition were planning their Journey for Justice, circumstances arose that dramatically reduced the TNC home office staff. Contributing editor Mark Harrison became very ill and unable to assist, and Tina Cummings, his companion and TNC's office manager, had to drive him 600 miles roundtrip each week for chemotherapy. I had kept in close touch with TNC and stayed involved in drug policy reform while I was gone, and jumped at the chance to work for the Coalition again.
I have a new motivation now to end the insanity of the war on drugs. I don't want those little girls growing up in a country capable of such cruelty and injustice. It was so tough telling them why I had to leave; I tried to explain that there were a lot of people in trouble, and they needed my help. That's when Mariah and Sophia came to a sort of understanding, probably due to our shared affection for comic book heroes.
"Like Superman?" they asked, almost in unison.
Well, not quite, but thanks for the vote of confidence, my sweet little nieces. I miss you.
The Razor Wire, March/April 2000, Vol. 5 No. 2
TRAFFIC: Hollywood tackles the drug war
Perhaps once in a decade Hollywood produces a movie that goes well beyond entertainment, a film that resonates with the public consciousness to such a degree that it may usher in a new level of social awareness and action.
In the 1970s The China Syndrome laid bare the callous disregard for safety within the nuclear power industry and was at least partly responsible for a complete overhaul of regulatory protocols within that industry. In the 80s the movie Philidelphia, starring Tom Hanks, helped people come to grips with the devastation of HIV/AIDS, thus spurring a sluggish federal government into action. This year marks the release of TRAFFIC, director Steven Soderbergh's epic tale of the utter futility of America's War on Drugs, a film which forecasts major change in drug policy. This film has already won numerous awards, and is a sure bet for a winner or two come 'Oscar night', and so one can easily imagine the public impact of a major celebrity decrying the drug war while accepting his or her award.
I first read about this film a little over a year ago in a copy of VARIETY, the entertainment industry's daily newsletter. In a single paragraph item about the movie having begun principal photography, the last line caught my eye: "Early buzz has it that those in Washington who wage the war on drugs will not be too happy with this film." I'm happy to say that TRAFFIC has met my
expectations as a plea for compassion and common sense drug policies, obvious reasons for drug warriors to be unhappy with this movie.
TRAFFIC tells three intersecting stories, which essentially follow the supply-to-demand path of illegal drugs into America. In Tijuana, Mexico, an honest cop (Benicio Del Toro) realizes the impossibility of trying to stem the flow of cocaine across the border while black market billions in bribes and graft thoroughly corrupt every level of his government. In San Diego, California, a wealthy, spoiled society matron (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is shocked to discover, after seeing her house invaded by the DEA, that her affluent lifestyle has been purchased through her husband's massive drug trafficking. Finally, in Ohio and Washington, DC, the nation's newest drug czar (Michael Douglas), a tough-talking drug war bureaucrat, confronts the human reality and failure of American policy when he learns his own teenage daughter is addicted to heroin and crack cocaine.
The director wisely refrains from overtly preaching the pros or cons of the drug war, and instead opts for simply telling a good story, allowing us in the audience to figure out and judge the characters and their actions. The film loads viewers with rich ironies from the chain-smoking DEA agents who complain about the impossibility of quitting tobacco while chasing down 'dangerous addictive drugs' to the nation's hard line drug czar who needs a Scotch or three after work "just to unwind". The climax of the film occurs when the drug czar, after accepting the futility of trying to enforce laws against basic human appetites (including the drug hunger of his own daughter) asks a crowded and expectant press conference: "How can we wage war on our own families?" At an early screening of the film in Washington, DC, an ardent drug warrior from U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley's office reportedly stomped out of the theater in disgust at this scene, scolding the director with "Shame on you" as he left.
Soderbergh is a Hollywood heavy hitter with such winners as Erin Brockovich and Out of Sight to his credit. His talents shine in every detail: the exceptional quality of the acting, compelling dialogue, the brilliant cinematography, even the sheer volume of story we absorb in two and a half
hours. He imparts an immense amount of information about a very thorny and complicated subject, but never leaves us bored or unbelieving in the process. My only complaint, from experience as a November Coalition activist, is that the film left untold the major devastation wrought by the war on drugs: tens of thousands of non-violent citizens caged in US prisons for decades at a stretch, apart from loved ones.
But that's another major Hollywood film waiting to be produced for the final blow to the mass incarceration policies which have damaged all of us.
The Razor Wire, March/April 2000, Vol. 4 No. 2
Spokane Vigil leads 11:00 News
About 30 'vigilizers' braved the cold weather in front of the Spokane County Courthouse to bring our message to the people. I was interviewed by the local ABC television-affiliate, and our vigil was the lead-in story on the 11 p.m. news. Our banner reading, There is no justice in the war on drugs was shown prominently.
The Channel 4 report then featured the captain of the local jail awkwardly defending drug prohibition to the interviewer. The story then gave news about a Mexican cartel's $200,000 bounty on U.S. border agents, followed by mention of the $1.6 billion bankrolled to Colombia for continued military actions against the peasants in coca-growing areas. The segments ended by asserting that cocaine-exports from this bloodied and beleaguered country have doubled in the last four years.
Perhaps unintentionally, the report still served as a scathing indictment of the Drug War.
Several passersby chose to join our vigil, and many cars honked as they motored by, their drivers yelling support. We made several new contacts, including a young woman who hopes to start a chapter of 'Students for a Sane Drug Policy' at Gonzaga University. All in all, it was an exhilarating and rewarding experience.
The Razor Wire, March/April 2000, Vol. 4 No. 2
Taking it to the streets
February 15, 2000 was a national day of shame for this country. On that day, two million human souls lived in cages in the land of the free. Over four million more were on parole or probation, laboring under the constant threat of imprisonment. Most were in this dire predicament because of the monstrosity we've come to call the war on drugs. A night spent in the wrong company, a foolish mistake, or a desperate attempt at some quick cash and their lives were consumed by an unstoppable criminal justice juggernaut.
On February 15, 2000 men and women of courage and conviction took to the streets to plead for reason in the war on drugs. A new solidarity was formed from many disparate reform-minded groups. Many of us have watched as our family and friends became casualties of the drug war, and soon knew we must channel our rage into positive action. We chose to bring our message of hope directly to the people; so we collected in groups outside of jails, prisons, city halls and courthouses, and showed the faces of the prisoners of the drug war to America.
The public response to our National VIGILizing was exhilarating. We handed out thousands of pieces of literature to concerned citizens. Most people were astonished that the United States has the dubious distinction of 'World's Leading Jailer'. Many more were horrified to learn how our precious liberties have been steadily eroded under the guise of the drug war.
Our efforts were featured on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, and appeared in Newsweek Magazine. National Public Radio featured our events. We were covered by numerous local newspapers, TV and radio stations. Even the BBC Scotland, London radio and The Guardian newspaper from Great Britain reported our vigils.
The drug war and the resulting prison-industrial complex have become firmly entrenched in our society, worth tens of billions of dollars annually in our decadent economy.
All we have on our side is truth and compassion. Our work is far from over, but the walls have started to groan.
Newsweek, Feb 28, 2000 - Newsweek Magazine
Locked Away And Forgotten
We're Going To Have To Face Up To It -- The Prison System Doesn't Work
By Ellis Cose
With vigils, rallies and teach-ins across America, a ragtag coalition of activists last Tuesday marked the moment when the nation's prison population theoretically rose above 2 million for the first time ever. Spirited though they were, the efforts rated little more than a yawn on the nation's attention meter. They certainly didn't create enough of a stir to overshadow the day's other groundbreaking event: television's first-ever win-a-multimillionaire pageant. In fact, the inmate projections (made by the Justice Policy Institute, a progressive criminal-justice think tank) may have outpaced reality. More conservative statisticians believe we are approaching, but not yet at, the 2 million milestone. Whatever the actual current number, it is clearly going up and almost certainly will reach 2 million before the year is out. Such high incarceration rates may seem a reasonable price to pay to keep America safe. But a number of thoughtful people are concluding it is doing nothing of the sort. And although their qualms have not yet ignited a mass movement, some believe that may be about to change.
The problem is that criminal-justice issues, by their very nature, are morally messy. They focus on the supposed dregs of society, a group with no political clout and little claim to compassion. They also, at this point, focus primarily on people who are black or Latino. A majority of Americans "can easily decide it's not their problem," noted Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project, a group promoting criminal-justice reform. Even many black and Latino liberals are ambivalent about the criminal class. As Los Angeles civil-rights lawyer Connie Rice observes, convicts are "a caste of untouchables" society is all too happy to lock away.
Yet even the police are increasingly talking of prevention and community policing as an alternative to locking up people who, for the most part, eventually end up on the streets again. There is also, Mauer notes, a broader recognition of "the impact on whole communities and generations" of sending ever-growing numbers of people to jail. Part of that recognition comes from the work of organizations like the Sentencing Project, which over the last several years has churned out one report after another detailing what it considers flaws in the American approach to justice. That approach has resulted in nearly seven times as many female inmates now (largely for drug offenses) than in 1980-meaning tens of thousands of children look to prison for mothering. And it has resulted in roughly half a million ex-cons, hardened and schooled in prison, re-entering communities yearly.
That approach has also, in the opinion of many researchers, resulted in rampant unfairness: nonviolent drug addicts getting more prison time than murderers, minorities getting harsher treatment than whites. Black, Latino and Asian youths (taken together) were 2.8 times more likely to be arrested for a violent crime, 6.2 times more likely to end up in adult court and 7 times more likely to be sent to prison than their white counterparts, says a new JPI study.
Another result of the skyrocketing prison numbers is that more and more people have gotten a close-up look at what modern American justice means. Tom Murlowski, now associate director of the November Coalition (a Colville, Wash.-based organization that advocates reform of drug law ), got involved after a friend was sent to prison on a drug conviction. "I never had dreamed of becoming an activist until I saw the woman I care about destroyed," says the former technical worker. Patricia Moore, a former city-council member of Compton, Calif., who was convicted of extortion, was similarly shaken by personal experience. After serving most of a 33-month term, she emerged this month with petitions asking President Clinton to pardon 16 women (all nonviolent drug offenders) she met behind bars. The answer to their problems, Moore concluded, "can't be just in prison."
Civil-rights leaders, previously nervous about raising too much of a ruckus about prison policy, are becoming bolder. Some see an opening with next year's U.N. conference on race. With the United States poised to overtake Russia as the most prison-happy place on the planet, they plan to take their concerns to the United Nations.
"All the signs point toward more public discussion about such issues," concluded Mary Frances Berry, head of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. That discussion--taking in those who care about everything from civil rights to law enforcement to drug policy--is likely to create some unusual bedfellows. If they end up creating a mass movement, it will not be because they care so much about prisoners, but because they care about what putting so many Americans behind bars does to the country's soul.
The Razor Wire, Oct/Nov 1999, Vol .3 No. 6
Los Angeles Police Corruption Investigated
In 1996 Javier Ovando was shot in the head and paralyzed after he fired upon three Los Angeles police officers. He went to prison, sentenced to 23 years for his crime.
After officer Rafael Perez, who was present at the shooting, was allegedly caught stealing about 600,000 pounds of seized cocaine from a police locker, a new story of the Ovando shooting was revealed.
Perez has traded testimony against his fellow officers for a lighter sentence, and now claims that Ovando was unarmed and shot in the head while he was lying on the floor in handcuffs.
This incident and other corroborated stories have touched off the largest
corruption scandal and subsequent investigation in the history of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Investigators are probing at least seven other 'unjustified' shootings. At least 13
officers have been relieved of duty, with more incidents likely to surface as the
internal scrutiny continues. Another 50 officers are known to be under suspicion, and almost 200 criminal prosecutions could be overturned.
The officers involved in the Ovando case may have been given orders to plant the weapon. A sergeant with the department's anti-gang unit allegedly instructed officers under his command to plant guns on unarmed suspects to back up a shooting or questionable arrest.
Brazen officers from the elite anti-gang unit known as CRASH (Community
Resources Against Street Hoodlums) consistently imitated the street gangs they were supposed to be eliminating. Sporting gang tattoos, it has been alleged that 'death parties' were held to celebrate fatal shootings of suspects. They are accused of dealing drugs, robbing banks, framing innocent citizens, shooting unarmed civilians and lying under oath.
Other corruption cases under public scrutiny include: police officers supposedly rented an apartment for on-duty sexual liaisons with prostitutes also enlisted to sell drugs officers had stolen from dealers; a 35-year veteran Los Angeles police officer was arrested for possession of heroin he stole during a sting operation; another officer was allegedly caught stealing $600,000 worth of seized cocaine from a police locker; two Pasadena deputy city marshals, one reserve deputy, one police officer and two former police officers are charged with theft, burglary and manufacture/delivery of a controlled substance.
Amnesty International has sent representatives to Los Angeles to investigate these incidents, similar to others covered in its new report, "United States of America: Race, Rights and Police Brutality."
Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and LA Police Chief Bernard C. Parks have publicly expressed their disgust at their officers' flagrant disregard for the law.
Even though Javier Ovando has been released from prison and is free now, he will be bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. A day of reckoning is due this victim. Ending the Drug War would restrain the police violence and corruption of which Javier Ovando and countless other victims have greatly suffered.
The Razor Wire, Sept/Oct 1999, Vol. 3 No. 5
Messages and Mumbo-Jumbo
When science and reason stubbornly continue to stymie their efforts, the drug
warriors always fall back on simplistic rhetoric. Any kind of realistic discussion of drug policy, anything that smells remotely like common sense or logic, might "send the wrong message to our children."
Industrial hemp, an incredibly versatile and potentially profitable crop for our nation's beleaguered farmers, cannot even be considered by our federal government because it "sends the wrong message."
Medical marijuana, which is increasingly being seen as a sensible medicine, is withheld from the sick and dying because it "sends the wrong message."
Needle exchange and methadone programs, both of which have been proven to drastically reduce harm to individuals and society, are constantly under fire by our government for the same reason. They might "send the wrong message."
What messages are we sending now? Here's a message that I'm sure our children are beginning to understand: make a mistake, enjoy a moment of youthful rebellion, and our criminal justice system will destroy you. Another message that I'm sure is all too clear in our minority communities: if you're black or brown, you are suspect.
At the heart of the war on drugs is the concept of a "drug-free America." This
seems to be a favorite sound bite in Congress; we've had bills for "drug-free families," "drug-free schools," "drug free communities," even one for a
"drug-free century." In the summer of 1998 it was the United Nations proclaiming a "drug-free world."
What exactly do McCaffrey and others mean when they talk about a "Drug Free America"? Every city, town and village in America has a drug store or pharmacy. Just about every city has a liquor store. Shall we close them all down? No more vodka, no more whisky and no more beer! No more aspirin, no more antacids and no more laxatives!
Of course not! What "drug-free" really means is no more drugs that aren't
sanctioned by the powerful pharmaceutical and liquor industries. They're just
trying to eliminate the competition! A "Drug-Free America" is just more
meaningless mumbo-jumbo, more fuel for a failed drug policy.
How about "zero tolerance", a little piece of meanness that is tossed about with increasing zeal by elected officials and petty bureaucrats these days. Here's a little simple math: zero tolerance equals 100 percent intolerance. We will tolerate nothing! Little Johnny brought lemon cough drops to school, and shared them with his sick buddy? Expel him; he's a drug dealer. Surely we can do better than that in this "Land of the Free."
Which brings us to that lofty phrase itself. Can we really call ourselves the "Land of the Free" when we have more human beings languishing in prison than just about any country in the history of the human race? Even Russia is dismantling their prison complex. We ought to be ashamed to show our faces to the international community.
Recently Canada was targeted by the U.S. State Department for "not taking the war on drugs seriously enough." Really? How dare they actually use compassion and common sense in their drug policies. We certainly have a bad case of arrogance. Or could it be that Canada's a step ahead, and this could be a way of our leaders sending another message-do it our way or else?
Here's a message to America for the new millenium: Just Say No! No to policies based on hate, fear, greed and racism. Say "no" to the lies and propaganda that have been forced down America's throat for decades.
Just say no to the war on drugs.
The Razor Wire, May/June 1999, Vol. 3 No. 3
To take His name in vain
It is clear we have reached a point where the wagers of the War on Drugs maintain a morally indefensible position. Decades of research and studies have confirmed that America's longest war is far more destructive to our society than drugs themselves could ever be, yet they jealously cling to a tragically failed social policy. When confronted with the light of day, the nation's drug warriors inevitably retreat into the shadows of meaningless, hateful rhetoric and self-righteousness. In the final analysis, they simply legislate against that which they find personally offensive, and let the facts be damned, not to mention the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and most law books. How did we allow these cruel tyrants to gain control of our government?
Nora's four year old grandson, James gave me a nice present over the holidays. It is a little key chain the little guy had made for me himself, and I take it every where I go. It has four simple letters on it: W.W.J.D.? They stand for "What Would Jesus Do?"
Those four words speak volumes about the fundamental nature of morality and Christianity in our society. While I can't pretend to be a church-going man, it's certain that the basis of my philosophy and feelings is molded from the lessons of Jesus.
The most virulent and potent supporters of the war on drugs would tell you they follow Christ's teachings. Gingrich, Hatch, Helms, McCollum, Barr, Lott, Gramm, Robertson, even Clinton and Gore; all claim regular church attendance and pious unswerving faith in the Jesus of the New Testament.
The question on that key chain brings me to a question of my own. How can a person attend services that espouse the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and then go before Congress and push some of the most hateful, mean-spirited, racist, and cruel laws ever visited on the American people?
With virtually the stroke of a pen, these drug warriors have condemned hundreds of thousands of nonviolent American citizens to our nation's gulags for ever more draconian sentences, under ever more barbaric conditions. They are robbing our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, moms and dads of decades of life, just to enforce their own twisted version of Christian morality. In my view, this makes them cold, hypocritical, self-serving demagogues. If Christ stood for anything, it was tolerance, forgiveness, compassion, and love of your fellow man.
Concerning the War on Drugs (really a War on the American People, of course), let us ask ourselves this simple question:
"What Would Jesus Do?"
Jesus would seek to heal instead of destroy. Jesus would promote peace instead of war. Jesus would teach forgiveness instead of punishment, and tolerance instead of hate. Compassion and moderation were the lessons of the Bible, not 'zero tolerance' and 'drug free'.
Far too many who claim the teachings of Jesus foment fear and intolerance instead. At its most basic, the word 'Christian' simply means 'Christ-like'. Let us vow to embrace these universal lessons of love and compassion with renewed vigor.
It is so important, I believe, for real, loving, grassroots Christians to seize this
message, and hold our elected leaders and clergy responsible for the fear and hate they spread. The next time you see someone of professed Christian faith get on TV, and say something like, "Lock 'em up and throw away the key!", ask yourself this simple four word question:
"What Would Jesus Do?"
"Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming 'I am he', and 'The time is near'. Do not follow them." - -Jesus of Nazareth; Luke 21:8
The Razor Wire, March/April 1999, Vol. 3 No. 2
Other times and other lands
As a child in the '60s, I used to travel to Canada on occasion, fishing, camping, and sight-seeing. It always seemed a trivial matter going across the border, not much more complicated than traveling to another state. But that was then . . .
Last weekend a friend and I drove to Grand Forks, British Columbia to have dinner. The Canadian Customs officer at the border crossing north of Colville couldn't have been friendlier, and made us feel very welcome in Canada. We had a great dinner, and about 10 p.m. we came back into the U.S.
I drove up to the tiny one room office of U.S. Customs and stopped at the stop sign as required. Nobody seemed to be manning the post, so I looked around to make sure I was at the right place. Suddenly a Customs agent came tearing out of the office and rushed up to the passenger side of my car.
Without any form of greeting or welcome he said gruffly, "Do you know if you had driven through this checkpoint it's a mandatory $5000 fine! Now shut your engine off and give me the keys!"
He proceeded to go through my car and everything in my trunk. Appearing angry because he could not find anything of interest, he handed the keys back to me with a surly "OK, you're free to go!" Not so much as a please or thank you.
Our ordeal at the border illustrates the 'Them versus Us' attitude that is prevalent in America these days. I can't remember my parents ever treated rudely when our family returned from Canada. Was it really so long ago?
No, it wasn't so long ago that we could feel secure in the presence of 'Peace Officers'. They were there to help us. Now we fear those who once protected us. How many of us feel uneasy when we see a police car in our rear view mirror? And why? Because the protectors of the peace are now at war. That is why it is 'Them versus Us'; no one knows who the real enemy is anymore.
The term 'War on Drugs' came into the public consciousness during the reign of Presidents Reagan and Bush. As in all wars, we required an enemy to demonize and triumph over. In this case, however, the enemy is domestic drug users, and they are completely indistinguishable from other Americans. We have therefore become an entire nation of suspects, guilty until proven innocent, and our civil rights are just troublesome obstacles to be maneuvered around by zealous prosecutors and enforcers.
I pose these questions to you, gentle reader: When will we awaken to the danger posed by a government that will wage war on its own people? How much are we willing to sacrifice for the illusion of security? Will we wait until death camps propagate like cancer across the land before we heed the warnings obvious to all? Newt Gingrich, William Bennet and current lawmakers have all proposed mandatory death and mass executions for some drug law violations.
We can become a great nation if we wish it, leading the world into the next millennium, embracing the future with open arms, but first we must open our eyes and our hearts. We have work to do. It's never too late.
The Razor Wire, Jan/Feb 1999, Vol. 3 No. 1
1998 -The Year in Reform
Newt Gingrich once talked about " . . . breaking the back of the drug culture." As we near the end of 1998, the reform community has never been closer to breaking the back of the drug war culture. Some highlights:
In June, during the UN Special Assembly on Drugs, 500 dignitaries from around the world, including Walter Cronkite, George Schultz, and Milton Friedman, signed a proclamation that " . . . we now believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than drugs themselves." This document was sent to UN General Secretary Kofi Annan, and appeared prominently in The New York Times.
In July, a panel from the 10th Circuit US Court of Appeals in Denver ruled unanimously in US v. Singleton that prosecutors offering sentencing leniency or cash in exchange for testimony is tantamount to bribery. This judgment has been cited by at least four other federal circuits in their decisions. The Singleton case went to an en banc hearing in November. We are waiting for that decision to be made public.
In October, the essence of Congressional Bill HR 3396, the Citizen's Protection Act, was passed into law as part of the 1999 Appropriations package. This new law requires federal attorneys and prosecutors to actually follow a code of ethics. This basic tenet is something virtually all other lawyers in America must abide.
Also in October, Amnesty International released a report, United States of America Rights for All, a scathing indictment of the US prison system and law enforcement excesses.
In November, 9 drug reform referendums in 6 different states and Washington DC passed with comfortable margins. In addition, new
Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura won handily on a 'end the drug war' platform, and dedicated drug warrior Newt Gingrich resigned in disgrace.
A heartfelt message to our drug war prisoners and their loved ones: we have never been closer to bringing you home, but the fight's not over yet. We must seize this window of opportunity to bring our message to the American people in greater ways. Much like the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, a small crack becomes many, fissures become holes, and eventually, the entire wall comes crashing down.
The Razor Wire, Jan/Feb 1999, Vol. 3 No. 1
No Newt is good Newt!
Or "The 'Contract on America' has expired"
(Quotes compiled by Ms. Francis McMillen)
Even the Republicans have tired of mean spiritedness - or so we hope. Speaker Newt Gingrich is now out of a job, having fallen on his own sword. We fondly bid farewell with Newt's own words:
"We believe licensed physicians are competent to employ marijuana, and patients have a right to employ marijuana legally, under medical supervision from a regulated source."- as printed in the Journal of the American Medical Association, March, 1982
On fighting crime: "There's a way to get a drug-free society. You ruthlessly drive out the drug culture. There's a way not to get to a drug-free society. You don't ruthlessly drive it out. What you shouldn't do is lie to yourself and stand in the middle. Then you have the total mess that we have today. I would raise the cost of the behavior at every level. The current penalties for drug use are such that if you're a baseball player or you're a rock star, what do you care? I'm not sure of the constitutional provision on this, but I'd charge middle and upper-income people 10% of their gross assets for first use, 20% for second and 30% for third. People would care very fast. If you raise the penalties enough, people quit doing it. I would also use the death penalty for people who import commercial quantities. They are going to addict our children. And I love our children enough to use the death penalty to stop that . . .which is the Singapore position . . ." -1995, speaking to Time, Inc.
Criticizing daytime TV. -
". . . where people get on and describe the most disgusting behaviors. We end up with the final culmination of a drug-addicted underclass with no sense of humanity, no sense of civilization and no sense of rules of life in which human beings respect each other." -1997
"Just Say No as a campaign worked." - 1997
"We need a World War II-style victory campaign for a drug-free America." - 1998, Washington DC
"I personally think we ought to build a fence everywhere we have illegal immigrants and drug dealers crossing into the United States." -1997, Georgia
"Once America got involved, it took our country just four years to win the Second World War - the greatest military effort the world has ever seen. In the Civil War, it took just four years to save the Union and abolish slavery. But this President would have us believe that with all the resources, ingenuity, dedication, and passion of the American people, we can't even get halfway to victory in the War on Drugs until the year 2007 - nine full years from now. That is not a success. That is the definition of failure." -1998
In an unexpected move, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has officially resigned; not just as speaker, but from Congress altogether. During his tenure as Speaker, Gingrich set new standards for downright meanness, moralistic preaching, and petty partisan squabbling. He was one of the most ardent and vocal drug warriors
In 1997, Newt sponsored the 'Drug Trafficker's Death Penalty Act', which mandated life in prison or death for as little as 2 ounces of marijuana. In a high school speech in 1997, Newt was heard to say, " when we start killing 30, 40, or 50 of them at a time, then they'll see the price of their deadly business go up." This man was talking about mass executions of nonviolent, low-level 'drug traffickers' in the United States of America.
In 1994, Gingrich signed a 'Contract with America' in which he promised smaller government, and less intrusion in the private lives of citizens. I think we can safely say the 'Contract on America' has expired, and, hopefully, the continued attempts by Congress to legislate virtually every aspect of behavior in America.
Newt and his 'Gingrich Republicans' were a small but powerful minority within Congress. It seems likely that, in the wake of Election Tuesday's startling results, the rank and file of the Republican Party exerted tremendous pressure to wrench party control away from Mr. Gingrich and his allies. Congress may be engaged in an internal power struggle that could dramatically change our present course.
Perhaps Washington has finally come to its senses, and realized that the People don't want to be governed by moralistic, mean-spirited rhetoric, but by compassion and common sense.
The Razor Wire, Jan/Feb 1999, Vol. 3 No. 1
Governor-Elect Speaks Out Against Drug War
On Election Tuesday, 1998, a day filled with drama and upset, one accomplishment stands out. In a stunning, unprecedented victory, Jesse Ventura was elected to lead the great state of Minnesota into the 21st Century.
Ventura's past job descriptions include Navy SEAL, professional wrestler, talk show host, and mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. After a slick, successful media campaign, and solid performance in the gubernatorial debates, he soundly defeated both major party candidates in what is certainly the political coup of the decade.
Governer-elect Ventura ran a for-the-people campaign under the Reform Party banner, vocally speaking out against the failed drug war, calling it "a disaster." He even went so far as to publicly consider full drug legalization and regulation, citing the success of the Dutch model of drug policy.
Ventura appeared on Meet The Press following the election. Here are some excerpts from that broadcast.
TIM RUSSERT: "You've said a couple of controversial things during the campaign, and I want to give you a chance to talk about them so we have your full beliefs in context. The first involved drugs, and let me put on the screen some comments and give you a chance to talk about them. "Hemp or marijuana is not addictive. Decriminalize it and get those drug dealers to start paying taxes." And "what you do in the privacy of your own home is your own business. If someone takes LSD and locks themselves up at home, why should I care? Anyway, I've done way more stupid things on alcohol than I've ever done on pot." What is your sense of drugs, Governor-Elect?"
GOV-ELECT VENTURA: "Well, my sense is this, you know, I believe you've got to fight the war from the demand side, not the supply side. I mean, for goodness sake, we have Stillwater State Penitentiary here and we can't keep drugs out of there, and these people are locked up 24 hours a day. If you're going to fight the war on drugs, you fight it on the demand side. And I don't believe that government should be invading the privacy of our own homes, and I also believe that you shouldn't be legislating stupidity. If there are stupid people out there doing stupid things, it's not the government's job to try to make them be smarter.
"We live in a land of freedom. And again, if we can't keep drugs out of the state penitentiary, how on earth do they propose we're going to do it out on the street corner? You fight it on the demand side. You get people to be smart and intelligent. It's like a business. You don't create a product because of supply; you create it because there's a demand for it. . . .and I also believe medicinal marijuana should be allowed. I mean, my goodness, a doctor can give you a prescription for morphine and yet they can't prescribe you marijuana? I think that should be left up to the medical community for people that are that ill and in that much pain. I don't believe the government should be telling them what they can or cannot use. It should be in the medical community and up to the doctors and physicians to do that."
Jesse Ventura has proven that a major political figure can openly oppose the status quo of drug policy and still win the favor of the people. His election, along with the nationwide clean sweep of the various medical marijuana initiatives, sends a strong message to government to get out of people's private lives and personal behaviors. Let us hope more of our elected officials will have the moral courage to follow suit.
The Razor Wire, Jan/Feb 1999, Vol. 3 No. 1
On the Move
November Coalition Headquarters: Colville, WA
Hello, my friends:
It was after much thought and deliberation that I finally left my career as an optical physics technician in San Diego, California and moved to Colville, to work full-time as our Coalition's Associate Director.
As many of you already know, I have a very special friend, Suzan Penkwitz, doing time in federal prison on a so-called drug conspiracy charge. Since her incarceration almost two years ago, I have been working closely with the
November Coalition. I have watched Suzan's nightmare unfold since the beginning, so I am all too painfully aware of what many of our readers experience day to day.
While we have hopes of winning relief on Suzan's appeal, I still believe the best chance to bring her and a half-million others home is ending the drug war. The prisoners must come home. This, in essence, is the primary goal of the November Coalition.
When this journey began for me, I was concerned about one woman, shocked at how a corrupt and unfeeling system had tried to destroy her life. Now, after my eyes have opened more fully, I see that a half-million human souls cry out for justice and compassion, and literally millions of their loved ones.
I see that the duty of every American is to be eternally vigilant, and dedicated to preserving the delicate dream that our founding fathers fought and died for. It is a daily struggle not to give in to rage and hatred at what I've seen, and what I now know, and yet I still believe in the American Dream. I still believe that we can restore reason and compassion to our nation. I still believe that the good guys win in the end. I still believe that love conquers all.
We have seen many changes in public attitude in 1998. The mainstream media has begun to tackle this subject with clear intent to expose it for the fraud it is. More and more we read and hear the drug war critized in newspaper, television and magazines and this is what we need.
It is time to bring our people home; our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, our lovers and friends home to heal in the arms of their families and loved ones. We all know they have done nothing to deserve the cruelty that has been dealt to them.
Back to list of November Coalition Staff and Regional Volunteers
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