04/17/16 Doug McVay

This week on Century Of Lies, host Doug McVay and DTN Executive Producer Dean Becker are at the Patients Out of Time conference. They talk with Neill Franklin, Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, about marijuana, the drug war, the murder of Freddy Gray, Baltimore, and how #BlackLivesMatter has influenced the drug policy debate.

Century of Lies
Sunday, April 17, 2016
Doug McVay
Drug War Facts
Download: Audio icon col041716.mp3



APRIL 17, 2016


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

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

DEAN BECKER: Let me start this. All right, it's a very rare situation for a couple of Drug Truth Network reporters to be interviewing one individual, but I think he merits it. He's my boss in Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and he's a man who has a very deep understanding of the nature of this drug war, being called upon all around the world for that expertise, and I'm proud to be sitting here with Mister Neill Franklin. How you doing, Neill?

NEILL FRANKLIN: I'm doing good, sitting right here, smack in the middle of the Doug and Dean Show right now, this is pretty cool, guys. I'm doing good, man.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. And we're here in Baltimore attending the Patients Out of Time conference, and, it seems that, oh, the focus is like a laser now on marijuana. It's certainly getting a lot of attention in the US and around the world, and I think rightfully so. You were here just giving a presentation right before I got here, Neill. What did you present to this group?

NEILL FRANKLIN: Well, it was pretty much about the aftermath of, you know, the prohibition of cannabis over the past few decades, you know, about, a little more than a century now, or around a century. But, so, I pretty much gave an overview of how policing got into this. Right? You know, coming forward from the 1930s, when we -- well, when the federal government started the move to prohibit cannabis in this country, as they did, as a result of social control, with the Mexican population in the southwest part of the country and so on. And how that had come forward into the Richard Nixon administration, and then he launches the so-called -- well, he coins that phrase, the war on drugs, and marijuana is key to this war on drugs, because he's dealing with the anti-war protesters, you know, who loved the hippies, you know, for those young people who don't know what I'm talking about, it's the hippies, you know, that were protesting the Vietnam war, and then the other side of that was heroin and blacks, you know. So, it was about social control.

But it was at that time, in the 1970s, when the federal government pretty much recruited local law enforcement, bribed local law enforcement into this with federal dollars to fight the war on drugs. So, I gave the law enforcement overview of it and how we in law enforcement drank the kool-aid, went out there and just started arresting so many people, mainly for marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: And, to me, Neill, this kind of brings it back in focus. I was there, I was getting my head kicked in a couple of times, from narcs who just felt it was their duty if they thought I had drugs. And, I guess, what I'm wanting to say is that, it was a profound shift. The drugs had been a problem, there had been people going after drug users, but it became an all-out blitzkrieg. Your thought, there, sir.

NEILL FRANKLIN: Well, yeah, it did, and, you know, there's so many reasons that it continued to go very hard in the direction it did. First of all, I remember when I started working undercover in the 1980s, man, you know, not only was it, as the executive branch of government, our responsibility to enforce laws. That's part of it. But you know, what, Dean? It was fun. You know, you don't hear cops talking about this much, but, the reason I went into narcotics, to become an undercover agent, as I just told the crowd next door, when I was working as a uniform road patrol trooper, I saw these shady guys, always going in and out of the ground floor of our barracks, driving nice cars and stuff like that. And I was like, who are these guys, right? These secret guys. And so I started talking to them one day, found out that they were narcs, and they told me how exciting it was, and how fun it was, put in a transfer, and next thing you know I was out buying drugs undercover.

And I got to drive the fancy cars, and you know what? It was fun. It was an adrenaline rush. Talk about drugs? You know, that's a hell of an internal drug that we have, adrenaline. And that's a lot of what we saw, you know, back then, you know, the more the merrier, we'd go out and make the arrest, you know, we -- and we would always hear the stories about going after the kingpins. Drug kingpins are far and few between back then, and they're virtually nonexistent today, unless you're talking about the cartels or one of these major gangs, organizations that are out there. But at the end of the day, we arrested mostly nonviolent marijuana offenders. And look at where we are today, 2.3 million people in prison.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. You know, when I was checking in downstairs, I ran into this guy. I mentioned I was from Houston, he related that he had heard a story that did happen in Houston, about this gentleman, a black man named Lee Otis Johnson, who went to a rally and saw four people passing a joint. He stepped in the circle, took a hit, passed it to the next person, and they put the cuffs on him. Because this was a group of cops waiting for someone to step into that circle. He was sentenced to ten years in prison for distribution of that cop's joint, from one to the next. Your response, Neill.

NEILL FRANKLIN: Well, that's what I spoke to. Right? You know, a similar scenario is that we would go hang out at bars and places where we knew people were smoking weed, and we'd step into the circle. You see, that was the whole -- see, this is the environment of people who'd smoke weed back then. They would share. Thanks! So, all you had to do was step into the circle, they'd pass the joint to you, and you just don't wait for one person to pass the joint to you, you then hand it to another person and they'd pass it to you. And you'd try to get each person in that circle to pass it to you. And then somewhere down the road, maybe a week or a month later, you'd then go back, and you'd lock them all up. Or, you'd lock them all up in secrecy, okeh, because you don't want anyone to know they got locked up, because the goal is to get them to work for you as an informant, so you go back in secrecy, and you lock them up, tell them, you know, advise them you've got a felony charge on them, and if you don't work for us, this is what will happen to you, this is how much time you're going to spend in prison for this felony.

That was wrong, man. But, you know, we drank the kool-aid, we thought it was right, we thought -- I, for one, thought that we could have drug free communities, but when you're in that closed environment of law enforcement, man, you just -- your perception is way off.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. You know, my police chief in Houston, Charles McClelland, came out, it was about a year and a half ago now, called the drug war a miserable failure. Made national news with that. It's a representative -- it represents the fact that cops know this. They know it's, in essence, a miserable failure, no matter what, because it's never going to be won. And yet it continues. What is the glue, what is the cohesion that allows us to maintain longevity, despite the fact that it's hopeless?

NEILL FRANKLIN: Well, there's many different types of glue and tape holding this whole thing together. And I'll speak to a couple important ones as it relates to law enforcement. Number one, as it relates to the hierarchy, you know, because we, for decades now, have had this civil forfeiture program in place, where we can literally take your money, your property, your cash, whatever. We don't have to charge you with a crime, many times we do not. Most of the times we don't. However, we take it and then make you have to come back with your attorney to prove that your money or your property is innocent of being involved in a crime. And because of that, because we've been able to pull in billions of dollars over the past few decades, with this civil forfeiture process, our governments, our policy makers, have now said to our police departments, well, you can raise a lot of this money on your own, so we're cutting your budgets back. Right?

So, as a chief, or a sheriff, you're going to do whatever you have to do to keep the money flowing through your agency, so you can continue to do the work. And, you know, so there's that incentive behind it.

Another thing is, I was a cop for over thirty years, 34 years. Most of my career was about this type of enforcement, drug enforcement, criminal investigation. And a lot of the criminal investigation was also related to drug crimes and the violence surrounding that trade. Here's the thing. So, after I've dedicated more than half my life, far more than half my life to this work, you're now going to tell me that all this work that I was doing meant absolutely nothing? I don't think so. I'm not going to accept that. But then you're going to even go further and tell me that I was actually harming my community? By putting these people in prison, disenfranchising people, putting them in a place where they'll, many of them, never will get a job again? Putting them in a place where they've, they're subjected to mandatory sentencing and spending, you know, lifetimes in prison. Not only did I put them in prison, but when you send someone to prison you send the entire family to prison. You know? So, families are affected. The families are put into a place of economic despair, and so on, and what does that do to a community? It decimates a community, especially black and brown communities. So you're going to put that on my shoulders? I don't think so.

But we have to educate my law enforcement brothers and sisters so that they understand that this wasn't something they did wittingly, it's just something, it's an unintended consequence as it relates to those men and women who are out there, going to work, who thought they were doing what they should do.

DOUG MCVAY: I'm going to take advantage of my friend's -- of my good colleague's coughing fit to jump in. Yeah, let's go there. Last time I talked to you was over at, I was doing a story for KBOO. It was just shortly after Martin O'Malley showed up in Baltimore and got his -- got himself heckled out of town. And, you know, it was very close on the heels of the -- no reason to mince words, the murder of Freddie Gray, and the riots that followed.

NEILL FRANKLIN: The uprising.

DOUG MCVAY: The uprising. Thank you, you're right. A better word, no need to mince them. It's been, well, over a year now, we're back in Baltimore. It's your home town. How's the city doing?

NEILL FRANKLIN: Wow, that's a good question. It's doing okeh. It's been a year. Hasn't been much change, but there's been a lot of dialogue, okeh, so, that's something that we have to keep going. The dialogue is open, and you're right in the middle, we're right in the middle of a very, very important election for a new mayor in this town. Not just a new mayor, but we have the opportunity here to replace half of the city council, at least. This is huge. As we keep the conversation going, as we change the leadership, then it's a matter of making sure that these conversations, the solutions that are being talked about, are being put in place and in practice by the new mayor and the new city council members. So, we've got a great opportunity, I think Baltimore -- I think we're going to do it. I think we're going to turn this corner, and we've got a good police chief, that, from what I've seen so far, Kevin Davis, in place. He's thinking the right way. Now the question is, can he put his thoughts into action and get his men and women in uniform to follow him?

DOUG MCVAY: You see, now, that's one of the things I was talking about yesterday. For the longest time, I think reform has been really nice. If somebody on the other side or in government says something that's halfway positive, we praise them to the heavens, even, you know -- we will certainly think about doing something good, and, you know, they may as well have actually done the thing, whether they follow through or not, people just lose track. I'm seeing a lot of people getting tired of that, in a kind of, yeah, nice words, let's see something happen. Am I alone in that, or do you see that happening? Do you see that happening generally in the public, the sort of, I mean, I'm from Iowa, you're from Maryland, but like the Missourians say, you know, Show me. I mean, I think that attitude -- I'm seeing that attitude, what do you think?

NEILL FRANKLIN: Well, you know, it's very important that you ask that question because actually, a lot of the people who are the activists, who are keeping an eye on what's going on, generating the conversations, they're saying the very same thing. We've been down this road many, many, many, many times before, in these forums, having these discussions, talking about these solutions, but you know what? It never, ever materializes, it never ever gets done. And we don't want to be here again with that. So, there are a number of people keeping a close watch on this, making sure that whoever ends up in the city council, and in the mayor's office, I'm certain they will be held accountable, to the best way possible, and people are tired of just hearing the talk and seeing no walk.

DOUG MCVAY: DeRay Mckesson. Good, bad, you support him? What do you think?

NEILL FRANKLIN: So, DeRay Mckesson, I think he has a very good message. I think he has a very -- I mean, he really sees and understands what's going on. He's not getting the support, you know, when they do the polling as to, and for those who don't know, DeRay Mckesson is one of the mayoral candidates, and I like his message. I really do. But apparently, the polling's not showing it. Now, it could be that his message just isn't getting out. You know? The other candidates, I see commercials on TV, you know, I hear them on the radio. And that's how most people still get their information, especially in this city, especially the black community in this city, it's radio, it's TV. You know? And, he's a social media guy, he does a lot of social media to get his word out, but, it doesn't seem to be reflected in the polls.

Right now, the front runner is Catherine Pugh, Maryland senator, then you have Sheila Dixon, who used to be mayor, and, you know, was, shunned because of her gift card sticky finger thing going on. And then you have, oh let's see, who's left? Ms. Embry, she used to be in the prosecutor's office, I think she's got some good messages too. And then you've got Warnock, who's a businessman. And then you've got Carl Stokes. They're the only ones left in the race right now. And, but, those two, Sheila Dixon and Catherine Pugh, are so far ahead in the polls of everyone else, it's not likely that -- I mean, it's just going to be between those two, at the end of the day.

DOUG MCVAY: I follow DeRay on Twitter, he's brilliant. I mean, he just is. Now, Dean's got himself under control, I still want to ask one more. How do you think the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the discussion which has evolved as a result of that, how do you see that influencing -- how do you think that's influenced the drug policy reform discussion that we have going on?

NEILL FRANKLIN: All right. So, that's --

DOUG MCVAY: I don't like to ask easy questions.

NEILL FRANKLIN: No, that's a really good question. And it's one that hopefully I have the answer for.

I need to say this first. The #BlackLivesMatter movement, there's still a miscommunication going on here. Especially like within the law enforcement community. I understand and know what it's about. It's about our government. It is about those who are supposed to be protecting us, and when you look at the data, it's a clear indication that, because of government action, our police, very disproportionate number of black lives are being lost at their hands, while in custody of our police officers.

And, I think at the beginning of the movement, the #BlackLivesMatter movement should have made this communication piece clear, that we, yes, understand, yes, all lives should matter, at the same level, especially as it relates to our government and government action, government being the police and so on. The evidence clearly shows that white lives matter, because so few die at the hands of the police when compared to blacks. The evidence shows not only about the death rate, but, when you look at data surrounding the people we're putting in prison, you see, because it's not just about somebody dying physically, when you put someone in prison, you know what? Life ends for many of them. Okeh?

When you look at the conditions within society and the poverty, and how the government doesn't do the right things at the level it should to ensure that black families are being embraced, for instance, the educational systems within many of our black communities is deplorable. Food deserts, employment opportunities. You know, this is about life, too. You know, the police have taken this #BlackLivesMatter argument personal. And what's being left out of the conversation is, you know what folks, this is really about policy. This is about the policy in which the police operate. You know, it is about the laws that the police have to enforce, one of the most significant ones being drug laws. Right?

The police are the ones tasked with going into a community and enforcing these laws, which is being done at a disproportionate level, which is done in black, brown, and poor communities. And many times, the police don't even know what they're a part of. The police very seldom look at the data. The police -- you know, and it goes back to something I said before this group a few minutes ago. When Ehrlichman was interviewed, and Ehrlichman, you know, one of Richard Nixon's aides, when he was interviewed about the Nixon administration, and what the drug war was all about, you know, after he came out of prison, he had nothing else to lose, he came clear -- I mean, he came clean and said, yeah, for the most part, and I'm surmising what he said, he says, it was about the Vietnam War protesters, it was about the blacks and the civil rights movement. We couldn't criminalize the protesters for exercising their First Amendment right to complain about the war, and we couldn't criminalize the blacks for being black anymore, so we'd go after the drugs that they used. Right? Marijuana for the hippies, all right? And heroin for the blacks. That was the drug war. Did they know they were lying about the drugs? Of course they did. And this is what Ehrlichman said.

You know, so, here's a system that was put in place to go after a certain group of people, and the police are the pawns. Right? So, we the police, we drank the kool-aid, we didn't -- we never stopped to look at the data, we never stopped to look at this from a different perspective, and we just kept on pushing, kept on pushing, kept on locking folks up. And now we're at this place, and part of that, what Richard Nixon was doing, according to Ehrlichman, was, he said, they would vilify blacks on the evening news, night after night after night after night. And you want to know why people like Hillary Clinton use the term "super predators"? It's for that very reason. And that's how the police would see young black men, as super predators, being afraid of them, shoot first ask questions later. And you know what? At the end of the day, you're going to end up with more black dead bodies than white.

You know, it's really deep, but I think we need to do a better job of communicating exactly what the Black Lives Matter -- I mean, Black Lives Movement is all about. That it is separate from black on black crime, which is another reason, you know, it came about because of the war on drugs, because of prohibition. You cause conditions of poverty within these urban centers, and then you prohibit drugs. It's like coming into the community, throwing gold on the streets, you know, when you've got these conditions of poverty you just flood the street, throw gold on the streets and say, oh, by the way, you touch that gold, we lock you up. And that's the war on drugs. That's the prohibition of drugs. Conditions of poverty, people going to sell drugs to make money, and then we, the police, are tasked with the job of going in and making the arrests and locking people up, and it causes this conflict. We've just got to do a better job of communicating exactly what that movement is all about, that it's not personal toward the police, it's about policy, it's about the government, and get the police to really understand what it's about, and to understand that the war on drugs is the foundation for the violence that we have within our communities, black on black crime, separate from what the Black Lives Matter movement is.

DEAN BECKER: Thanks, Neill. I've got one more question, I probably won't even use it on my show, maybe you can.

DOUG MCVAY: I'm going to use this whole thing on my show, so if you'll excuse me for doing just one thing: You're listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

I'm speaking with retired Major Neill Franklin, and Dean Becker. Neill, of course, the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Dean Becker is the host of Cultural Baggage and the executive producer of the Drug Truth Network.

NEILL FRANKLIN: And a great LEAP speaker.

DOUG MCVAY: And also a terrific mentor for young radio folk like myself. Young radio folks -- okeh, you're laughing.

DEAN BECKER: The question I may not use in Houston, because it's political, but it goes something like this: about two years back, I was invited by the National African American Forum to be moderator of a panel which included the local sheriff, Adrian Garcia, a deputy police chief, and a gentleman who I think had just won the district attorney race, a Republican, his name was Michael Anderson. And when it was all said and done, and questions came from the audience, and Michael Anderson, you know, I had my question left, and you guys pretty much know my question, it is, sir, the drug war empowers our terrorist enemies, it enriches the barbarous cartels south of our border, it gives reason for these violent gangs to exist in our neighborhoods selling contaminated drugs to our children, so I must ask you, sir, what is the benefit? What do we derive from this policy that even begins to offset the horror we inflict on ourselves by continuing to believe?

And Michael, this guy who just won the district attorney's race, was the pulpit, and he turned to me, red in the face, he says, you mean to tell me you think that all the brave men and women who died fighting this drug war did it for nothing? And I almost had an answer, and the deputy police chief comes up and puts his arm around Mike, he says Mike, Mike, let me handle this for you, you go sit down. And it kind of ties into what you were saying, that they cannot stand the thought that what they have been doing all this time, these decades, was for nothing. And it will be proven as such, I'm certain, in the very near future. Your thought.

NEILL FRANKLIN: Well, it was for something. Ed Toatley was a good friend of mine. He was an undercover agent. He was a state trooper here in the state of Maryland, and the very year that I retired from the Maryland State Police he was working with the FBI in Washington, DC, buying cocaine from a mid-level drug dealer. And he sacrificed his life doing what he thought was the right thing to do, just like I did. For the decades that I put in, the time that I worked undercover, we thought that we were doing the right thing. Just like the soldiers in the Vietnam War, when they were sent over, to fight in Vietnam. We trusted our government, we trusted our policy makers, that we were doing the right thing. Yes, the work that we were doing, because we had no malice in heart, is noble work.


NEILL FRANKLIN: And, those police officers, just like those soldiers over in Vietnam, died for what they believed to be a noble cause, so therefore, it is. Now that we know it's not. Now that the data is available, now that the proof is there, and once you know this information, and know what the truth is, if you continue to do what you do, it's a different story. But for all those that have died, fighting the war on drugs, believing that they were doing the right thing, they died for a noble cause, for nobility. We do this work so that no more have to die. You know?

So, when those police officers, as they did in the past, came to me and said to me that I should be ashamed of myself for advocating for this change in policy because of all the police officers that have died doing this work, and they tell me I should be ashamed of myself. I tell them, if you knew what I knew, and eventually you will know what I know, then you'll realize that what I am doing is the most noble thing that I could do now, that any of us can do now, in ending this war on drugs, which is extremely dangerous for our fellow police officers. We don't -- how can you want more police officers to die doing this work?

But even beyond that, even more important than that, because we have taken an oath, first and foremost, to protect our citizens. How can you advocate for a policy that puts many, many, many more civilian lives at risk? Once you know the truth, it is then your noble duty to undo this fiasco, this nonsensical drug war, this dangerous and deadly drug war. And it's not just about our citizens, it's about all the people around the globe, and human rights, like my brothers and sisters in Mexico.

DOUG MCVAY: And well, that's it for today. Thank you for joining us. You've been listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give it a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give it a like and share it with friends.

We'll be back next week with another thirty minutes of news and information about the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.