In The News
Snitch Culture Run Amuck
In mid-November, 35-year-old Chadwick Shane Cochran was beaten to death by fellow inmates at Los Angeles County Jail, according to the Associated Press. Authorities report that gang members, who mistakenly thought he was an informant, screamed "Snitch!" while beating and stomping Cochran for up to a half-hour. Cochran, who was mentally ill, was in jail for a nonviolent offense.
Also, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that two criminal trials in October were brought to a halt because of the presence of "Stop Snitchin'" t-shirts. The shirts are an increasingly popular trend on the urban streets of eastern cities.
"Snitching becomes a fact of life," according to Alexandra Natapoff, an associate criminal law professor at Loyola Law School who published a University of Cincinnati Law Review article on the phenomenon (see "Snitching: The Institutional And Communal Consequences").
"At every barbecue, at every holiday party, someone is under law enforcement pressure to snitch. That in my mind is a destructive public policy."
For more on the Stop Snitchin' movement, visit www.stopsnitching.com
DEA, local police raid San Diego medical marijuana sites
In a coordinated sweep, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and state and local police raided 13 San Diego-area medical marijuana dispensaries in early December. The multi-agency raiders seized marijuana and medical records, but made no arrests except for three people seized on outstanding warrants. The search warrants were not issued by the feds, but by California authorities, meaning if any criminal charges are filed, defendants would be tried under California law.
According to reports from dispensary operators and patients, the DEA and police came in like gangbusters. Eyewitness accounts of raids around the city described raiders entering the facilities with guns drawn, handcuffing staff and patients, running warrant checks on everyone, then searching the premises and seizing marijuana and records. Police reported seizing 50 pounds of pot, computers, and patient records from the raided clubs.
"The cops acted as if they were raiding Al-Qaeda headquarters", said Tony Amirine, who runs an Ocean Beach dispensary called Utopia. "Guns to my forehead, handcuffed, down on the ground," he told San Diego CityBeat. After a group of eight to 10 heavily-armed officers secured the premises, they searched the place for three or four hours, Amirine said. "All I do is sell weed to sick people."
That is legal under California's Compassionate Use Act, passed by popular vote in 1996, and supporting legislation passed last year. At last count, the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in the state hovered around 160. But California dispensaries and even medical marijuana patients can be prosecuted under federal drug laws, which do not recognize medical marijuana.
The raids came after a months-long investigation that included sending undercover agents into the dispensaries in an effort to obtain medical marijuana without the proper paperwork. Law enforcement spokesmen claim they were able to do just that.
The response from medical marijuana supporters was immediate and energetic, with San Diego activists meeting Monday night and demonstrating downtown Tuesday, and the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) organizing protests at federal buildings in cities around the country Wednesday. But movement veterans also warned other dispensaries to shield themselves from such raids by being extremely careful to operate within state law. In other words: Don't sell marijuana to people who cannot prove they have a doctor's recommendation to use it for medicinal purposes.
US Marshals want to build Border Superjail
The United States Marshals Service wants to build a 2,800-bed prison in Laredo, Texas. The Laredo Superjail, if built, would be one of the largest private prisons in the United States. The prison would house almost exclusively immigrants convicted of low-level drug and immigration crimes.
The facility will be privately built and operated. It will be one of the largest private prisons in the country. A motley crew of private prison corporations is vying to win the contract, including the Geo Group (formerly Wackenhut), CiviGenics, Corrections Corporation of America, Correctional Services Corporation, and Cornell.
A group of community and statewide organizations have formed the South Texans Opposing Private Prisons Coalition to oppose the prison. The STOPP Coalition is a partnership between Laredo-based labor, civic, student and immigrant rights organizations and statewide criminal justice and civil rights organizations.
Three main reasons to not build this Superjail:
First, a private prison corporation cashing in on immigrant incarceration raises serious ethical and moral questions. Forty-eight Southern Catholic Bishops signed a statement in 2001 raising serious questions about the morality of incarceration for-profit.
Secondly, the Superjail would be bad economic development for the Laredo area. While communities often try to attract prisons for economic development reasons, the most recent, qualitative study done on this issue by researchers at Ohio State and Washington State universities has shown that prisons actually harm economic growth in the long-term. In addition, private prisons provide poor-paying jobs and are notoriously anti-union. The Webb County Central Labor Council opposes the Superjail.
Thirdly, the Superjail would negatively affect Laredo's quality of life. Laredo was recently ranked least livable in a nationwide survey of 331 major cities. Highlighted in the survey was the fact that Laredo lacks much intellectual life, has few bookstores and libraries, and lacks much in the way of entertainment.
To read more about immigrant detentions, the proposed Laredo Superjail and the campaign to stop its construction, please visit the STOPP Coalition at www.stoppcoalition.org.
Source: selected and edited for space from www.notwithourmoney.org
Cannabis for PTSD
To help treat returning Iraqi combat soldiers, California's Dr. Tod Mikuriya gave this online advice to a returning Iraq War vet for coping with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome or PTSD:
"Medically, cannabis is the treatment of choice for PTSD but definitely would spell the end of your military career. If you elect not to medicate with cannabis, the regular exercise regimen - avoidance of drugs and alcohol and a specialized debriefing - is the least worst response to this chronic psychiatric disorder."
Appalachian seniors charged with drug-dealing
The Associated Press reports on a growing problem of senior citizens selling their prescription medications to make ends meet. Floyd County (KY) jailer Roger Webb told AP that seniors have a ready market for their prescription pills, especially painkillers, and some may be succumbing to the temptation of illegally selling their medications.
"When a person is on Social Security, drawing $500 a month, and they can sell their pain pills for $10 apiece, they'll take half of them for themselves and sell the other half to pay their electric bills or buy groceries," Webb said.
The predictable response by local authorities: lock 'em up!
Since April 2004, the anti-drug task force Operation UNITE has charged more than 40 people who are 60 or older with selling drugs in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, including 87-year-old Dottie Neeley. In a telephone interview from jail, the 4-foot 8-inch Neeley told AP she suffers from emphysema and asthma, and uses oxygen daily. Neeley faces 10 years in prison if convicted of trafficking in prescription drugs.
Pulaski man cuts his wrists in court
A Pulaski man slashed his wrists in a federal courtroom in Roanoke (VA) on August 17, 2005 after pleading guilty to drug charges, and officials say the blade he used was so small it could not be detected in a pat-down search.
John Timothy Underwood, 38, had just pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute more than 50 grams of methamphetamine plus two counts of carrying a firearm in relation to a drug trafficking crime when he nonchalantly reached into the front pocket of his jail uniform and made a rubbing motion at each of his wrists, said supervisory deputy U.S. Marshal Ron Donelson.
Two courtroom security officers almost immediately noticed the blood, witnesses said, and stepped forward to clamp the wounds and act as human tourniquets. Underwood was taken by medics to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, where he was treated and released. He was placed on suicide watch at the Roanoke City Jail later Wednesday, Donelson said.
Heidi Coy, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Roanoke, said Underwood is facing 35 years in prison in connection with his plea deal. "It is regretful that Mr. Underwood harmed himself," she said, "and we commend the quick actions of the U.S. Marshals and the courthouse staff."
Underwood, who came to court wearing a knee brace and walking with crutches, was sitting before U.S. District Judge Samuel Wilson when he cut himself. His co-defendants, Joshua Roop, 20, and Stephanie Lane, 50, had also just pleaded guilty to methamphetamine distribution charges.
Hagan and Underwood's attorney, Richard Derrico, said they had never heard of an incident like that in their combined 39 years in practice.
Source: The Roanoke Times (VA)
Iraqi heroin abuse is soaring
According to IRIN News Service, there is a rising number of Iraqi addicts who also work as dealers to make money and finance their expensive habit. When they can't sell enough heroin to finance their next fix, many resort to stealing from shops instead. The Ministry of Health has warned that drug abuse is rising steadily among men and women of all ages in Iraq, especially in the capital Baghdad and in the south of the country.
Many consumers of heroin and cocaine say they have been traumatized by the increasing cycle of political violence in Iraq as Islamic insurgents step up their fight against the US-led coalition which invaded the country in 2003 to depose former president Saddam Hussein. And drug pushers have also found a lucrative market amongst soldiers in the US-led occupation forces. They report strong demand from Italian troops in particular.
"There has been a huge increase in the consumption of drugs since last year," said Kamel Ali, director of the Ministry of Health's drug control program. "The numbers have doubled. In most cases the users are youths who have become addicted and are now working as drug dealers under pressure from the traffickers in order to keep themselves supplied," he said. According to Ali, the number of registered addicts in suburban Baghdad has more than doubled over the past year, rising to over 7,000 from 3,000 in 2004.
The Ministry of the Interior said police had captured 45 cars carrying packages of smuggled heroin over the past 15 months. Their drivers face life imprisonment or even the death penalty, if convicted. But stiff penalties for drug dealing are no longer an effective deterrent.
IRIN News (www.IRINnews.org) is a United Nations news and information service, a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.