09/18/11 Deborah Small

Deborah Small Exec Dir of Break The Chain re: Colombian FTA, Mexican drug war, NY marijuana laws & more

Century of Lies
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Deborah Small
Download: Audio icon COL_091811.mp3



Century of Lies / September 18, 2011


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: Ah, it’s nice to be back in-studio. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to sit here and talk to you directly like this. I thought about it, I’ve got one main guest for this show because I think we have so much to talk about. She’s somebody I have admired for many years now for her efforts to undo this twisted mess called Drug War. I’ll let her just fill you in more because I’m sure she has much she wants to share with you guys. Let’s welcome, from Break the Chains, Deborah Small. Deborah?

DEBORAH SMALL: Hi Dean. How are you? It’s so great to be on with you this evening.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, same here, Deborah. I was so happy when I saw you out there in Oakland at the Speakers’ Table at that really massive event. It was something, wasn’t it?

DEBORAH SMALL: Yes it was. It so nice being “so out” here in Oakland otherwise known as Oaksterdam. I’m just hoping that we can take this spirit across the rest of the country.

DEAN BECKER: Indeed. Indeed. I’ve talked about it for the last couple weeks. Have had shows about it but I want to, once again, just clarify. This was a gathering of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people, there was an area where adults could smoke and they did they did smoke the very best stuff that has been grown on this planet so far - extracts and hash and eating cookies. I talk to the police and there was not one problem there, was there?

DEBORAH SMALL: This is true. I talked to the police too as I was leaving. That’s so funny. I stopped and I talked to them and asked them how the day was and they said they had a great day. I asked if they had made any arrests and they said no. I asked if they had any incidents and they said no. Then I asked them what they thought about it and they said they would take this crowd over people drinking alcohol any day.

So I asked if they would come back next year and they said yes. I said I hoped we could have the event next year and they answered that as far as they’re concerned they thought it was great.

DEAN BECKER: Well, you know…

DEBORAH SMALL: I told them I was so happy to hear them say that because a lot of folks in law enforcement don’t understand that there’s nothing potentially or inherently dangerous or disruptive about having an event that involves people who are cannabis consumers.

DEAN BECKER: You know, Deborah, I’ve been thinking about it and the fact of the matter is if NBC or Fox, in particular, had been there and actually reported the truth of this matter I think it would help bring the Drug War to a much quicker end. Your response.

DEBORAH SMALL: Well, you know that’s what you call an oxymoron…Fox and the truth – they don’t go together.

DEAN BECKER: Deborah, let’s tell folks about your organization, Break the Chains.

DEBORAH SMALL: Break the Chains is a non-profit, public policy advocacy organization. Our mission is to engage people in general, but in particular, communities of color that is disproportionally affected by the punitive drug policies to really get involved in advocating for an end of drug prohibition.

We believe the War on Drugs causes more harm than good and that we really need repeal all of our prohibitionist policies and replace them with effective policies that are grounded in science and human rights and public health.

DEAN BECKER: You know, Deborah, in years past (and perhaps it still holds true) there were very few people of color involved in drug reform. Am I correct?

DEBORAH SMALL: That’s true and I think for a lot of reasons. But, for a lot of people, myself included…When I first started doing drug policy work I was more interested in sentencing reform. I felt that black people were getting much too long sentences for drug offences and that we needed to both reduce that time and find a way to make drug law enforcement more equitable and fair.

But the more I’ve learned about the Drug War and the more I’ve traveled and really gotten deep into understanding drug policy, I realize that it’s not a system that’s capable of being reformed and the only thing that we can do is repeal these policies. They were never designed to work. They cannot work. Keeping them in place only further damages people which has been happening for almost one hundred years.

So I truly believe that at some point people will look at drug prohibition the same way that we now look at alcohol prohibition – as a crazy, stupid experiment that didn’t work, that couldn’t have worked. We never understood why people thought that it could work in the first place and folks are glad that they got rid of it. I truly believe that that is how we will come to see drug prohibition. I just hope to see that happen in my lifetime.

DEAN BECKER: You know, Deborah, a few years back….and I was trying to recall just when…you were here in Houston at Texas Southern University as part of a fairly large gathering there, a symposium, if you will, right.

DEBORAH SMALL: Yes. We were. That was back in 2004 actually. It was interesting because it was before Katrina and our focus was on the impact of the Drug War on communities of color there. I’m happy to see that there has been some positive changes in Houston. You now have an African-American District Attorney. You’ve got a lot more focus on providing meaningful indigent defense. There’s been significant sentencing reform.

So, in some respects, I think Texas has made real strides with respect to some aspects of the criminal justice system. We still have a long way to go with the respect to the death penalty. Still have a long way to go to reform and improve the juvenile justice system. But I do believe that in some ways there’s been progress in other ways some of the new approaches are a little bit disturbing. The basic story of America is that we can make two steps forward but we’ll always take one step back.

DEAN BECKER: You’ve got that right.

DEBORAH SMALL: You guys made up the Texas Two-Step and taught it to the rest of us.

DEAN BECKER: Good point. I want to disagree with one point. Our District Attorney is white. Her name is Pat Lycos but I think you’re talking about the Dallas District Attorney. But things are getting better, a little better. Two steps…

DEBORAH SMALL: Maybe it’s your Public Defender. Did you finally get a new PD office?

DEAN BECKER: Can’t really speak to it. There’s been some talk about redesigning things but I don’t know for certain. Once again, folks, we’re speaking with Deborah Small of Break the Chains.

Deborah, I want to talk about…I do my reporting, if you will, I get to do it on a daily basis through the Drug Truth Network but you’ve been blogging, you’ve been looking into doing some reporting outside of that as well, right?

DEBORAH SMALL: Well, you know, it’s interesting because this week I was writing about the upcoming Colombia Free Trade Agreement because both the President and the Republican leadership has proposed moving forward ratifying the three potential proposed Free Trade Agreements. One is with Korea, one is with Panama and one is with Colombia.

I wrote about the one pending with Colombia because it’s directly related to the War on Drugs and the impact on the people of Colombia on the Free Trade Agreement would be devastating, particularly to the indigenous populations and the Afro-Colombian populations and yet there’s very little discussion here in the U.S. about what the potential downside of either of those agreements could be on the people in those countries.

DEAN BECKER: Did we lose her? Deborah? OK, we’re going to try to get back with her. This is Dean Becker. You’re listening to Century of Lies on the Drug Truth Network.

While we’ve got a moment here I wanted to talk to you about my organization. I’m a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition which was established in 2002 by one Canadian and four American cops. LEAP has become an international organization of law enforcement professionals; police officers, parole and correction staff, judges, prosecutors, prison wardens, former DEA, Homeland Security and FBI agents.

We now have more than 50,000 supporters throughout 80 countries and LEAP has over 130 speakers, like myself, who are either current or former law enforcement professionals. Who are knowledgeable about every aspect of the U.S. and international drug policies and we would like to speak to your organization.

All you have to do is go on the web and visit http://leap.cc It may take a little while for us to find the money but we will come speak to your organization. That’s at http://leap.cc

And I’m told we have Deborah Small of Break the Chains back with us. Hey Deborah.

DEBORAH SMALL: Hi Dean. I’m so sorry about that. Can you let me know where I was when I dropped off?

DEAN BECKER: Well, I don’t know…we’ll just continue on. Deborah, the point I think we were addressing is that you are looking at the Free Trade Agreements in Colombia and talking about the potential failings of that alignment.

DEBORAH SMALL: It’s sad to me that we don’t really have a conversation about the impact of our policies on other countries. That’s particularly true with the respect to the War on Drugs. Even though there have been more than 40,000 Mexicans that have died as a result of the War on Drugs in the last 5 years, that gets very little conversation in the U.S. Except whether or not the violence is spilling over across the border into the U.S. even though most of that is driven by the U.S. demand for drugs.

Similarly, in Colombia, the War on Drugs and our role in perpetrating that has had a definitely negative impact on economics and Colombian politics for many, many years. But ever since Plan Colombia was initiated under the Clinton administration in the 90s’, we’ve been pouring millions of dollars into the Colombian government for weapons, armaments basically, that are being supposedly used to defend the country against guerillas but actually is being used to suppress trade unionist, farmers who are trying to hold on to their land…There have been lots of reports about the way the Colombian government has been in bed with paramilitaries and been involved in all kinds of massive human rights abuses. And that’s been done with American money.

The money that we say that we’re using to encourage people to grow alternative crops instead of coca…Well I went to Colombia. We say that we want them to do that but, in fact, we’ve spent no money on building the roads that they would need to actually bring their crops to market.

What we have done is subsidize large agro-businesses that have taken over huge tracts of land from small farmers, driven them off the land so that they can grow petro-chemical crops which provide no food for anybody.

So now you have whole areas of the country where farmers are now working for low wages on the same land that they used to own to grow crops they can’t eat with American money.

So, for me, this proposed Free Trade Agreement is only going to make that worse. It guarantees that Colombians won’t be able to organize trade unions so that they can demand higher wages. So the whole idea that it’s going to make it possible for Colombians to buy more American goods makes no sense at all.

They don’t make enough money now to do that and they certainly won’t be able to do it after the Free Trade Agreement. And, as we know, with the NAFTA in Mexico that cost tons of jobs, Americans lost their jobs to countries like Mexico where the wages are lower.

So, from my point of view, the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia has lots of downsides for American workers and Colombian workers and lots of upsides for American businesses, Colombian businesses and the more repressive parts of the country and the people who care about perpetrating the drug war.

For those of us who actually think that those shouldn’t be our priorities, we should be arguing against ratifying this Free Trade Agreement.

DEAN BECKER: You know Deborah, this brings to mind and it’s kind of off-track of what you’re saying but it kind of ties in too…and that is it’s interpretation of the law oftentimes that leads to differences in people’s lives.

I’ll give you a quick thought. You talked about we were improving things. We actually have a law that says for 4 ounces or less marijuana it’s no longer necessary to arrest or jail anybody and yet they continue to do it except in one-half of one county.

The other point I wanted to come back to is that you were talking about your travel to Colombia. I went to Bolivia. I visited the prison in Cochabamba. This is a place that’s designed to hold 24 or 48 people yet it holds several hundred people now and most of those people are in there for having too much toilet paper or too much steel wool in their possession. The law has been struck down by the Supreme Court but the implementation of it has not spread to the police officers on the beat.

So, what I’m saying here, is that all these people who get arrested spend months if not years in jail waiting for an appeal and the appeal is automatically granted because the law has been expunged yet not totally erased. I’m not sure how to interpret that but it still goes on.

It’s just another instance of wasted effort, manpower and money in this drug war, right?

DEBORAH SMALL: Well, you know it’s funny, because I used to think that the War on Drugs made no sense and that if you only explained to people why it made no sense that they would stop supporting it. But, again, the more I came to learn about it the more I realized that in its own twisted way – it actually is quite effective.

If you believe as I do that the principle purpose of the Drug War is not get rid of drugs, not to reduce people’s drug use, but actually to reduce people’s ability to compete in society – then it’s actually quite effective at that.

You know one of the things that we’ve done both in the U.S. and in many other countries is criminalization has now become the way in which people are pushed out of the labor force. They are pushed out to the margins of society.

When you think about the kinds of economic changes that we’re having right now and the fact that there quite frankly are not enough jobs, real jobs, to provide for the people in the population – then one way that you help reduce the level of competition that there is for the jobs is by criminalizing one segment of society.

Keeping them behind bars because in doing that you’ve accomplished two goals. One, you reduce their ability to compete in the regular labor sector so you reduce that level of unemployment. But you also provide employment for the people whose job it is to watch the folks that you’ve placed behind bars, and to monitor them and to surviel them.

So we’ve created a whole industry around policing people and locking people up and watching them, etc. which has become a substitute for what used to be employment about making things.

DEAN BECKER: So true. Friends, we’re speaking with Deborah Small of Break the Chains. Deborah, I’m looking at another of your blogs that was dealing with marijuana law enforcement in New York City and that situation, that scenario, is becoming more widely known. Perhaps even to be addressed…your response?

DEBORAH SMALL: Again, that’s one of those interesting examples of what you were talking about earlier – how you can have a law on the books but it’s the interpretation and application of the law that problems come about.

I am a native New Yorker, grew up in New York and raised my son in New York. I became relatively concerned about the fact that among my son’s generation there were a relatively high percentage of them that were being arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Which, from my point of view, didn’t make sense because growing up in New York I knew that that was something that the police rarely arrested people for. But all of the sudden that started to change.

In the mid-2000s I started doing some research with a professor at City University to look at why that was happening. What we find out was quite fascinating. We found that as part of the Giuliani “Quality of Life” push to begin to target low-level offense the police were instructed to begin to target marijuana possession as the type of low-level offense that they would arrest people for.

And it wasn’t so much that they wanted to necessarily lock these people up and put them in jail for a long time – it was three things.

1) To send a message that the police were there and that they were going to go after everything – no matter how big or small.

2) To provide a way for the cop on the beat to maintain high arrest rates. It was really easy to arrest people for misdemeanor offenses. Much easier than it is to actually go after people for felonies. It’s like fishing. If you throw out a net wide enough, you’re going to draw in a whole lot of little guppies. So marijuana arrests is that kind of a thing. It’s a fishing expedition.

You have cops that go out and they just drive around looking for people. Either they look for groups of young people where they think one or two of them might be smoking marijuana. Or, more recently, what they have been doing as part of the “stop and frisk” practices of the NYPD which is to target youth of color, stop them, frisk them theoretically looking for a weapon. They rarely ever find a weapon - .01% of the cases they find a weapon. But, what they do is ask the young people, “Do you have any marijuana on you? Do you have anything in your pockets? If you take it out, you’ll be OK. If you don’t take it out and we find it, we’re going to arrest you.”

So, of course, most young people, thinking this is the best thing to do, they turn their pockets out or they let the police go into their pockets. They might a joint or a nickel bag of weed or whatever. Now the child is charged with the offense of having marijuana in public view. Which is still a misdemeanor but it’s an arrestible offense.

So since the 1990s when Giuliani instituted this practice the city has escalated the number of arrests from 5 or 6,000 before that to a high of 60,000 a year in 1999. Over the last few years under Bloomberg it’s leveled off to the mid-50s but that’s still….we’re talking 50,000 arrest a year, at least 10 people a day, every day, are arrested for the misdemeanor offense of marijuana possession.

And 85% of those people arrested are black or Latino men under the age of 25 which you have to think it’s absolutely absurd. Not only because black and Latino men collectively make up less than 15% of the city population but no one could ever pretend that 85% of the people who use or possess marijuana in New York City are black and Latino men. Even the police don’t say that but they don’t think there’s anything wrong with the fact that that’s the percentage of people who are being arrested for it.

So we published a report about that which got a fair amount of press. When the police and the mayor were confronted about it they continued to say that this is part of their crime fighting strategy and it’s necessary to maintain low crime rates.

They also tried to say that arresting these young people is no big deal because they don’t actually spend a lot of time in jail as if somehow being booked, handcuffed, fingerprinted and kept on Rikers Island for two days is no big deal.

So on one level I feel like it’s been a good thing that we were able to bring attention to this, in particular, because young people and their parents have really, really highlighted the injustice of it. On the other hand we have yet to see a change in policy either from City Hall or from the NYPD.

From my perspective the thing that I find most appalling is that you had Bloomberg recently announce that this initiative that he has on helping young black males where he’s going to spend 30 million dollars of his own money to help at-risk youth. Which I think is a great thing but it’s as if he takes no responsibility for the fact that it’s some of his policies, including their law enforcement policies, that put these youth at risk.

So I feel if the city was really serious about helping young black men and young Latino men they would stop arresting them for possession of small amounts of marijuana or for being in public housing buildings or for any of the myriad of other misdemeanor offenses that they are regularly picked up and harassed and arrested and booked and fingerprinted for.

DEAN BECKER: We’re speaking with Deborah Small of Breaking the Chains. We’ve got less than 2 minutes here. I wanted to just quickly point out that the Drug Czar and the President and a lot of the high echelon proponents are beginning to say that, “Drug use or abuse is a medical problem. We should change our stance. We should go about this differently. We should redirect our dollars.”

But the truth of the matter is they haven’t done a damn thing in that regard. Your response, Deborah Small.

DEBORAH SMALL: Again I think the rhetoric has changed considerably under the Obama administration. They no longer want to use the term “War on Drugs”. They say that they’re more focused on treatment. They say that they’re more focused on drug prevention, etc.

But the fact of the matter is is that I believe “the truth is in the pudding.”- where you put your dollars. There is still a disproportionate amount of dollars that’s going to law enforcement agencies that’s about focusing on arrests. In spite of what they said about medical marijuana - the number of raids has increased.

You’ve got the justice department saying that they’re going to go after the states that are trying to implement medical marijuana laws. I think it’s outrageous. In the states here like California where you not only have a viable medical marijuana program that’s been working for more than ten years but a desire by people in the states to actually expand that to non-medical use for adults. But the Feds have said, “No, we’re not going to let you do that. If counties and cities want to be able to tax and regulate cannabis for adult you that they can’t do that.”

They’d rather see people layoff teachers and firefighters, close parks and schools, get rid of social services for the elderly than spend a little less focus on the War on Drugs. You really, really have to wonder who is advising the President on these things.

DEAN BECKER: Deborah, we’ve just got a couple seconds. Please share your website.

DEBORAH SMALL: Oh yes, I just wanted to mention that we have a petition on our website called http://www.newdrugpolicy.com. It’s directed to President Obama. We’re asking him to fulfill on what he said at a press conference back in January where he said he was open to a debate about legalizing drugs. Our goal is to get as many signatories on the letter as there are incarcerated for drug offenses.

So we’re asking everyone to sign on. We’ve already gotten 75 of the original Freedom Riders to sign on to it and hundreds of other citizens just like yourself and listeners like yourself and people who are listening to this show who care about it.

So, again, the website is http://www.newdrugpolicy.com Please visit it and check out our posts but especially sign the petition. Thanks so much for listening tonight.

DEAN BECKER: Deborah Small, thank you so much.


DEAN BECKER: Folks we’re not going to have time to run that segment but I want to talk about a couple things that are hot in the news, if you will. I’m looking at the most recent Scientific American 2011 edition. This underscores what I’ve been saying now for years.

“Cocaine’s Newest Risks

A new drug contaminant is causing frightening outbreaks of blackened skin and low white blood cell counts

To the list of cocaine’s many dangers, health officials have added at least one more: purpura, a rash caused by internal bleeding from small blood vessels. Two recent papers in major medical journals have documented cases of cocaine users showing up in emergency rooms with patches of blackened, dying skin on the ears, face, trunk or extremities. The condition causes scarring and sometimes requires reconstructive surgery. …

The cause of the outbreak is a veterinary deworming medication that has become the most common ingredient used to dilute, or cut, cocaine coming into the U.S. from South America. The drug, called levamisole, was once approved for cancer treatment but was later pulled because of its side effects. Three quarters of the cocaine bricks seized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration now contain levamisole.

Equally worrying is another of its side effects: a sometimes fatal lowered count of white blood cells that are called neutrophils. Doctors suspect that both conditions are allergic reactions to the drug. “

I guess the point is, the government prefers that this stuff be made by untrained chemists cut with horrible contaminants and then sold to our children at a 17,000% markup. The point here is, my friends, you are responsible. If you’re not speaking up, if you’re not demanding a change to these insane drug laws – you are part of that problem.

So I urge you to please do so. A great place to get involved is my website which is http://endprohibition.org. There you can join up with many organizations around this country. And, as always, I remind you there’s no reason for this drug war to exist. We’ve been duped. Please do your part and visit 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.

This show produced at Pacifica Studios at KPFT, Houston.

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