01/22/12 Leonard Pitts

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Leonard Pitts Jr., syndicated columnist + Canadian TV report on deaths from tainted "X" - police refuse to say which pills kill, Terry Nelson of LEAP on baloon effect & former EU drug czar Dr. Carel Edwards

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Century of Lies / January 22, 2012


DEAN BECKER: The failure of Drug War is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors and millions more. Now calling for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.


DEAN BECKER: Welcome to this edition of Century of Lies. My name is Dean Becker. Here in just a moment we’re going to bring in our guest. He’s nationally syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts.

I want to first apologize to the audience for our recent technical difficulty. I think we’ve got it under control but because of that we’ve had him waiting online for quite some time so let’s introduce Leonard Pitts. How are you, sir?

LEONARD PITTS: I’m OK but your technical difficulties are not resolved. OK, now I can hear you.

DEAN BECKER: You and I have had a couple discussions over the past few years. Most recently, I think it was Friday, here in Houston they printed one of your more recent columns. They titled it “Helping to spread the word about the new Jim Crow.”

You’ve had the chance to speak with the author of that book “The New Jim Crow”, Michelle Alexander, and she’s studied this right down to the nubs hasn’t she?

LEONARD PITTS: Yes she has.

DEAN BECKER: Tell us about this most recent column. What brought you to put it together?

LEONARD PITTS: I want people to read her book. I think that it would be impossible for most fair-minded people to read her book and come away without feeling that we need to do something about the Drug War. Having spent I believe the estimate now is one trillion dollars, 40 million arrests and seeing the drug use in this country go up 2800% over those years that maybe it’s time we try something new.

So I wrote a column offering to give away copies of her book I bought 50 of them, asked her to autograph them and I wrote a column telling my readers that we would have a drawing and we would give them away.

I wanted to do that 1 to put 50 books into people’s hands and 2 that I felt that by doing that (buying the books and giving them away) that it would impress upon people how important I feel it is that they read it even if they don’t win the drawing.

DEAN BECKER: The fact of the matter is that your example has led me to the point that now I’m going to buy a copy of it and give it to our District Attorney here in Harris County with the prevision that she come back and we talk about it with her opponents running for that position.

LEONARD PITTS: I think it needs to be read by every law enforcement official in this country and if I had a way that I knew I could get it into their hands for sure I’d give copies to President Obama and Attorney General Holder(?) because I think they need to read it.

DEAN BECKER: I’ll buy a copy if you can figure out a way to get it to them.

Let’s talk about what’s contained in that book. What compels you to do this.

LEONARD PITTS: It wasn’t so much that she said anything that I did not know. Mainly that the “injustice system” funnels African-Americans in for drug crimes at a widely disproportionate rate. But what she did was sort of put it all together.

Because you take that fact that African-Americans are being incarcerated at a disproportionate rate even though, as she points out, white Americans are far and away the nation’s biggest users and dealers of drugs. You take that and combine it with the fact that we now have all these laws that prohibit people with drug felonies or drug arrests on their record from doing things most of us take for granted.

They can’t - a lot of them can’t vote. Their voting rights are interdicted. They can be discriminated against in public housing, in loan applications, in work, in going to school. They can be legally discriminated against in all those things.

You combine those two things and she’s right – you’ve got basically a system of racial control which is just like, say, the grandfather clauses or other things they used to use to keep African-Americans from voting once upon a time and that is officially race neutral.

There’s nothing on it that says only arrest or effect the African-Americans but, in practice and for that matter in design, controls the African-Americans population, keeps African-Americans suppressed in terms of voting, in terms of getting ahead economically and a bunch of other ways. Ergo - the new Jim Crow.

DEAN BECKER: You know, Leonard, the fact of the matter is…I’m trying to remember. I think it was President Reagan who had the Southern Strategy…

LEONARD PITTS: It was Nixon.

DEAN BECKER: It was Nixon. Excuse me. That’s right. It was Nixon who officially declared the Drug War. He had this Southern Strategy which was a carefully disguised reimplementation of racism. Your response to that.

LEONARD PITTS: Yeah, again, what happened after the 1960s was it was no longer politically correct or politically safe to say, “I’m a racist or for segregation.” So what happened is that you learned to speak in code and that’s happened ever since.

That’s what you get when you have the likes of Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum casually conflating black with welfare or black with food stamps, etc. etc. It’s sort of speaking in code, speaking in dog whistle for those who have ears to hear. That’s what Nixon did and that’s what the Drug War is about.

One of the most interesting stats in Michelle Alexander’s book which just amazed me was a study that was done where they asked people to close their eyes and visualize a drug dealer and I think something like 90 to 95% of them (if I’m recalling correctly) when asked the race of the visualized drug dealer it was reported as black.

Well, as I just said, the average drug dealer or most drug dealers are not black. They are, in fact, white but this sort of tells you that the code has had its effect. Therefore when I’m running for office and I say, “We got to get these drug dealers off the street”, you as the voter know what I mean. You know, ”I’m going to be tough on these black folks in the inner city.”

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. It plays out in the media, on television, movies, everywhere you go. That’s the example that’s most often given. Some young, black punk is …

LEONARD PITTS: Yeah, exactly. What bothers me about that, frankly, is not just that it effects law enforcement and white folks but black kids believe it as well. That becomes self-image and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

DEAN BECKER: And I think it helps sway the jury’s opinion in many cases.

LEONARD PITTS: Of course, yeah.

DEAN BECKER: You have written about other aspects of the Drug War as well. It’s not just racially implemented, so to speak, it’s economically implemented as well. Those who can afford good attorneys usually don’t spend much time behind bars, right?

LEONARD PITTS: Well, that’s like the whole “injustice” system. I told people the story about O.J. Simpson as a story of race. The story of O.J. Simpson was a guy who could afford to hire 4 or 5 of the best lawyers in the country. That’s the story of O.J. Simpson, you know. People really don’t want to deal with that.

But, yeah, there’s different “justice” in this country based on your economic standing.

DEAN BECKER: Going back to your idea. You’re going to distribute 50 copies of Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of color blindness,” it is my hope that not only will those winners read it but that they’ll share it with friends and family. As you and I were talking about – maybe pass it on to their state or federal rep, right?

LEONARD PITTS: I’ve had a lot of readers…I’ve been very, very gratified with the response from readers - like 15,000 - which is way more than I ever expected. 15,000 for 50 books – yeah.

But what is really interesting is that I’ve had a number of readers say, “Don’t enter me in the contest. If you feel that strongly about it, I’ll buy it and read it myself and pass it on.” A number of the readers who entered the contest said, “I will read it and pass it on.”

I’m hoping that through this expedient we can get people talking about what she’s talking about in this book because I think it’s long overdue that there be a discussion over these issues.

DEAN BECKER: Too many Americans tend to think that the Drug War has been around since Adam and Eve I suppose and the apple but the fact of the matter is even under that circumstance there was only two people and one guard and they still committed the crime.

It just goes to show that prohibition is just a failed policy. The fact of the matter is, you talked about it, 40 million arrests, one trillion dollars squandered and what have we got to show?

The fact of the matter is we are empowering our terrorists, our enemies. We are enriching these barbaric Mexican gangs. We’re giving reason for 30,000 violent gangs to be prawling American city streets selling drugs to our kids. It needs reassessment, doesn’t it?

LEONARD PITTS: Yes it does. I wish that somebody…Part of the problem is as Americans we are historically illiterate a lot of times. I wish somebody, more people frankly, had bothered to look at the recent documentary that Ken Burns did on prohibition. Or the book that Daniel Okrent called “Last Call” – also about prohibition which goes into depth about how futile it is to try to legislate people out of wanting they want. You know, you’re just not going to do that.

The best thing you can ever hope to do is to tax it and control it and treat it as a public health issue as opposed to this crazy response that we have now which, frankly, reads like something out of the Cold War era.

DEAN BECKER: Friends, once again, we’re speaking with Leonard Pitts. He’s a nationally syndicated columnist based at the Miami Herald, right Leonard?


DEAN BECKER: You’ve read his columns for years in your local papers. The fact of the matter is that, as you said Leonard, 15,000 responses to that deal on the book. That’s amazing.

LEONARD PITTS: It took me by surprise. I expected maybe a couple thousand. They told me that people don’t read newspapers anymore so I didn’t have a whole lot of hope for the response that I’d get but it’s been through the roof. It really has. I’ve been very gratified not just by the numbers but also by the things that people are saying.

DEAN BECKER: It’s also kind of amazing, you know, they do polls of Americans, “Do you think we should legalize marijuana?” and it’s up there right at 50%. We have situations where they do a poll online, “Legalize Marijuana?” – it’s 89%. When they do polling for “What’s on your mind” for the President marijuana or ending the Drug War is always at the top and President Obama seems to discount(?) that focus that people want to bring to it.

The same could be said, heck, Stephen Cobert when he started his super-PAC wondered what should be dealt with - #1 was marijuana, second was ending the Drug War. He’s decided not to do that but what I’m leading to here is that it is a primary plank in a lot of people’s mind that we’ve got to do something about this. Am I right?

LEONARD PITTS: Yeah, I think so. I can’t speak for Cobert’s motivations but for the President, like any politician, it’s scary to be out there as the first and basically alone on an issue like this but somebody at some point going to have to have the courage.

And frankly I think President Obama, particularly assuming he gets the second term that he’s after, you know it could come from no more fitting a President or political leader than him. The reason I say this, as I wrote in my column last year, his two immediate predecessors…one we know used illicit drugs and the other we strongly suspect used illicit drugs and Obama used illicit drugs.

If the three of them had been caught as teenagers, two of them probably would have had a chance to go on and live productive and good lives. President Obama probably would have had a different outcome had he been caught during the years that he was experimenting with, I believe it was, cocaine.

If nothing else as acknowledgment of the fate that he missed – you would think that he would want to take the lead on this.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, the fact of the matter is he like many other high echelon, CEOs and others as well as a lot of nobodies like me who experimented with drugs and went on to have very productive and useful lives despite that drug use. It should give some concern to these rabid prosecutors. Your response.

LEONARD PITTS: I would think it would because what we’re talking about is something that could impact any of us or any of our children. It probably takes a different tone when it comes home.

There’s an old Richard Pryor joke about a white couple that goes the inner city and they see people strung out on drugs and they say, “Oh my God…tsk, tsk – looks what’s happening here.” Then they go home and they find their son shooting up and they say, “Oh my God, it’s an epidemic.”

The reason I raised that story is I think a lot of us find it easy to sort of dismiss this if it can be seen as something that’s happening to other people “over there.” I think that what we need to understand is that this affects us here wherever “here” is defined and whoever “us” is defined. There’s none of us that are really safe from this.

DEAN BECKER: No, no – not at all. The fact of the matter is that when it’s brought home like that, when it’s brought in your family – people do begin to look at it differently. There’s another lady up in Dallas. She runs an outfit called Mothers Against Teen Violence, Joyce Strickland(?). He son was killed by some people who were in a drug-induced frenzy and by that I mean they were trying to get money to buy drugs and they robbed and killed her son.

For years she thought that the Drug War was the way to go about this until she looked at the economics of it and the functionality of all this and realized that it was prohibition that killed her boy.

LEONARD PITTS: Yeah and prohibition…(chuckles) we tried that via a constitutional amendment for 13 years and it didn’t work. Try something new. Smoky Robinson’s(?) song said, “If that don’t do – try something new.”

DEAN BECKER: We’ve got just a couple minutes left. Is the contest still open or is 15,000 enough?

LEONARD PITTS: 15,000 is more than enough but I’m going to stop accepting entries at the end of the month and do the drawing and get the books out. I’m probably going to do a follow-up column at some point.

DEAN BECKER: And you’re going to get a chance to meet with Ms. Alexander in March, right?

LEONARD PITTS: Yeah, she has agreed to come down to Miami for an event at Books and Books in Coral Gables and we are going to have panel discussion. I really want to get people talking about this and I figure the best way to do that was to have an event in the community and bring folks out to discuss.

DEAN BECKER: OK. Thank you for being with us. Your newspaper is miamiherald.com. Do you have a website you want to share?

LEONARD PITTS: Sure, it’s http://www.leonardpittsjr.com/

DEAN BECKER: I will be looking forward to not just your follow-up column but to every one. They’re always very interesting and educational and plain ol’ entertaining. I appreciate your work and hope you’ll come back and join us real soon.

LEONARD PITTS: Thanks a lot. Take care.


DEAN BECKER: The following segment comes to us courtesy of Canada’s CTV:

ANNOUNCER: The body count is rising tonight as a lethal neurotoxin that’s showing up in the party drug ecstasy is linked to a number of deaths. BC’s Coroner says one more of the victims is a 14-year-old boy as Michelle Bernar reports. Public health experts say the deadly ingredient is something new and extremely dangerous.

CORONER: Every time you take it you are putting your life at risk…

MICHELLE BERNAR: That is warning tonight from BC’s Chief Coroner after learning that 5 deaths in B.C., 3 from the lower mainland and 2 from Vancouver Island, have been linked to a chemical called PMMA.

CORONER: Three of the deceased were males between the ages of 14 and 37 and two were females between the ages of 17 and 22.

MICHELLE BERNAR: The findings come after an analysis of 16 ecstasy-involved deaths last year and two in 2012. 20-year-old Tyler Miller and 17-year-old Cheryl McCormick of Abbotsford died after taking ecstasy but the coroner has not revealed which case is involved to PMMA.

DARYL PLECK: Using ecstasy is like playing Russian roulette.

MICHELLE BERNAR: Criminologist Daryl Pleck has done an extensive review of thousands of ecstasy seizures.

DARYL PLECK: The average ecstasy tablet contains nine different contaiminents and we want to remember in thinking about these nine different contaminents that that’s just what was tested for.

MICHELLE BERNAR: In Calgary five recent deaths have also been linked to PMMA and police are trying to determine if any of the ecstasy originated in B.C. In the past studies have shown Metro-Vancouver is the country’s main source of ecstasy.

B.C.’s coroner’s office said it will now begin routinely testing for PMMA in ecstasy-related deaths.

CORONER: Hyperthermia is one of the symptoms so when people become very, very hot and sweaty…coroners have noted beds soaked with sweat.

MICHELLE BERNAR: The coroner said there is no safe dosage of PMMA or ecstasy. In one of the deaths the person had taken just one pill. Michelle Bernar, CTV news.


DEAN BECKER: Now comes word that police in British Columbia are reluctant to tell the public what unique markings are on ecstasy pills suspected to contain this lethal additive. They don’t want users thinking they’re sanctioning the rest of the pills.

B.C.’s Chief Coroner says police agencies have decided against putting photos of the drug online. They want people to know that any ecstasy tablet can contaminated with anything.

PMMA is considered several times more toxic than ecstasy’s usual ingredient and can heat up the body to the point of severe and organ damage or death.

The drug has also been linked to 5 recent deaths in Calgary.


SPEAKER: The brown acid which has been circulating around us not specifically too good.


TERRY NELSON: This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Just recently a Drug Czar spokesperson claimed a victory in the war on drugs in Colombia, South America. They said that the effort spent in the country and increased the efficiency of the Colombian Army had reduced the size of the cocaine acreage.

And, of course, as always, there’s a grain of truth to the comments.

The fact of the matter is that we have spent over 8 billion dollars in Colombia to achieve this small success. There has been a reduction in the size of the coca-growing operations to approximately 140,000 acres or a reduction of approximately 65%.

But, what they did not mention is that Peru has increased their coca production by 41% to 151,000 acres and Bolivia has increased their production by 112%. In total – there’s approximately 400,000 acres of coca farming.

This is sufficient acreage to produce approximately 2 million pounds of blow. Overall this is down 200,000 pounds from historic highs.

This amount of cocaine is still sufficient to provide each American with approximately 3 grams of coca. 8 billion dollars spent and they just moved the farming to another country.

The balloon effect is that this will also happen if we spend billions more to reduce it in Peru and Bolivia. It would just move to sub-Saharian Africa where it reported they are already experimenting with grow-ops.

And now Peru and Bolivia are producing street-level cocaine whereas mostly before it was done in Colombia so even a small success results in a bigger failure of the policy.

Drug smuggling is a market based on economy. The suppliers will always adjust to whatever strategy the drug war hawks change to and it will take years for the government to catch up with their strategy. And the hamster wheel keeps on turning.

Change is inevitable. As Guatemala’s Head of State, Otto Perez Molina, joins Mexican President Calderon and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos who have both advocated a rethink on global strategy towards drugs, studied insite a website covering security in Latin America.

It seems unlikely, however, that given the United States position against legalization that their called will be heeded.

And most people would acknowledge that we cannot arrest our way out of our drug problems and that strategy must be changed. We at least think that we should implement a strategy of legalized regulation control coupled with education and treatment to best treat our drug issues. It’s a much more humane way to approach the problem and will cause far less harm than our policy of arrest and incarcerate.

Join us on the discussion about our drug war policy when you can. Call your congressman, state and local leaders and tell them it’s time to change the way we approach our drug problems in this country.

This is Terry Nelson of LEAP, www.copssaylegalizedrugs.com, signing off. Stay safe.


CAREL EDWARDS: My name is Carel Edwards. I worked for the European Commission for the last 30 years. In 2003 I took over the Drugs Czar.

The job of the unit I was running was to coordinate drug policy. The 1961 Convention which sets out which drugs are OK and which are not somehow you find that the drugs that are used in developed western countries – their drugs were OK, like alcohol and that the drugs that are grown in hot, green countries or deserts like cocaine and marijuana are not OK.

So our drugs are OK but their drugs are not OK.

If you look at the history of drug control internationally, drug control from about 1900, you’ll see the Americans in there with a very, very strong religiously-driven agenda. That makes it so difficult for ordinary decent Americans to conceive of the idea that you should perhaps not ban these drugs but talk to your kids about them and that is where religion, organized religion in the states as in Europe, has to really seriously rethink.

You need to find a bridge with people rather than…and God has a base in it if you’re religious – rather than say, “Nope, it’s bad and we don’t want to talk about it.” Because then you are pushing kids into the crack houses and into prison.

We can look, for instance, at the tobacco model for cannabis. I’m not saying you just adopt the tobacco model but it is a pointer in the way you regulate stuff. You make sure that you have a very strong public health infrastructure. In Europe it’s not the 75 million people who are smoking cannabis. It’s the minute, very small minority in there to whom it’s causing problems - health problems, social problems.

Most drug users, whatever drug they are taking, are not problem users. This is often forgotten. In Europe we’ve got something like 600,000 opiod users and half of them are on treatment. They get methadone or whatever. Some of them get heroin treatment.

Once you’ve got them on treatment they can begin to function again. They can look after their kids. They can keep down jobs. I’m not saying that it is good to take heroin but you’ve got to keep these people in society.

Drugs are coming out faster than we can invent cures for them, definitely at the moment. We’ve got the problem of legal highs hitting us in Europe. You can’t keep banning stuff so you’ve got to begin to regulate it.

I call it power sharing with the Mafia because you do leave the supply of the market to organized crime and there is no way you can keep organized crime out of it unless, as a government, as a state, you’re willing to get your hands dirty and actually begin to regulate this.

That may mean actually producing the stuff and circulating it. Those are concepts which to many people are very shocking. The alternative, in my opinion, are even more shocking.

I was at a conference in Prague last year and there was this guy there who gave this presentation – it was Jack Cole. It was admirable and I thought if cops and ex-cops like that can stand up, American policemen can stand up and say these things and put them on the web and have billboards on freeways – that is really going to help because there we are in the lion’s den and these people have guts. I respect that.

When I go somewhere to speak I always make it clear that I am a member of LEAP and that is where I’m coming from. I support LEAP because I think prohibition is a complete dead end. It’s dangerous. It’s harmful.


[dramatic music]

DEAN BECKER: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. These men and women have served in the trenches of the drug war as prosecutors, judges, cops, guards and wardens. They have seen first-hand the utter futility of our policy and now work together to end drug prohibition. Please visit http://leap.cc


DEAN BECKER: I hope you have enjoyed this edition of Century of Lies. I hope you will join us next week. We’re sure to have some more great guests to educate and embolden you to hopefully do your part to help end the madness of drug war.

I want to once again thank Leonard Pitts, Jr. – the nationally syndicated columnist and encourage others to purchase Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of color blindness. I think that book is going to help swing the cat. It’s time for us to buckle down and do our part.

I want to remind you, once again, there’s no legitimatacy to this drug war. It has no basis in reality. It’s possible the drug lords are running both sides of this equation. I urge you to do your part. Please visit our website, http://endprohibition.org. Prohibido istac evilesco!


For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker asking you to examine our policy of Drug Prohibition.

The Century of Lies.

Drug Truth programs archived at the James A. Baker, III Institute for Policy Studies.

Transcript provided by: Jo-D Harrison of www.DrugSense.org

Dean Becker Wants YOU to Call the Drug Czar