05/02/10 - Beto O'Rourke

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Beto O'Rouke a city councilman from El Paso & Clarence Bradford a Houston councilman/former policy chief discuss need to revamp drug laws

Audio file

Cultural Baggage May 2, 2010

War is Peace. Peace through War
A hundred years of prohibition, need a hundred years more
We got to fund the terrorists and gangs,
To save the kids, we got to do the same damn thing.

From Houston to El Paso, it’s a Texas Revival of Truth and Understanding. Welcome to this special edition of Cultural Baggage, a two parter with our other program, Century of Lies. We have in-studio, Clarence Bradford. A Houston City Council member and former Police Chief of Houston and on the phone, we have Beto O’Rourke. A courageous El Paso City Councilman. Both to join us for the hour, here on Drug Truth Network.

Yes, thank you for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. We do have with us first off in studio, the former Police Chief of Houston, current city councilman, Mr. Clarence Bradford. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. Clarence Bradford: Thank you, Dean and thank you to your KPFT audience. Pleased to be here.

Dean Becker: Thank you, sir. I’ve been trying to find local people to talk about this. Because for the national audience, once again I want to reiterate, Houston leads the world in it’s incarceration rate. It’s primarily because we’re so afraid of flowers and little puffs of powder and it continues to fill our jails to, at or near unconstitutionally, over full levels.

We try to open the discussion. It’s been like pulling eye teeth, is one phrase that comes to mind. But it is beginning to happen. For that, I want to thank those that have come on in the past. Last week was DA Pat Lykos. A couple of weeks before that was Sheriff Adrian Garcia and the week before that was Constable Victor Trevino.

They’ve all said, it’s time to take a look at this process. It’s time to open the dialog and perhaps find a better way, of going at this. Chief? You don’t mind if I call you that, do you?

Mr. Clarence Bradford: Not at all. I can tell you, I’ve earned that title.

Dean Becker: You have, indeed.

Mr. Clarence Bradford: Bite marks, whips, on my back and so yes, please.

Dean Becker: Well, it’s a title of respect, from me. Chief, I think it’s just becoming so evident; so glaringly obvious, that there is that need to re-examine this policy. Correct?

Mr. Clarence Bradford: Yes, absolutely. I think that when you look at the number of resources that we continue to deploy, or continue to consume, in an effort to execute what we call the war on drugs, I think most people will say that though diligent efforts have been exhausted, that little success has been made.

Dean Becker: Exactly right, sir. Now in the ’Houston leads the world in it’s incarceration’, we’re going to kind of ’flip the coin’ here; flip the script if you will. Ciudad Juarez is the most dangerous city on the planet. Some twenty-two thousand, nearly twenty-three thousand dead, in just the last few years, because of this drug war.

But just across the river, El Paso is considered to be one of the safest cities in America and I want to get into that; why that is the current situation, with our other guest who is with us online. City Councilman from El Paso, Mr. Beto O’Rourke. Are you with us, sir?

Mr. Beto O’Rourke: I am, Dean. Good to be with you.

Dean Becker: Beto, thank you so much. I had the opportunity to catch a speech of yours you gave, in San Francisco, to the Students for Sensible Drug Policy and I want to first commend you for nailing it so very well and I honesty think what you have to say, should be shared with every City Council in the United States. If you would, just a brief summary of what it was you presented to the Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Mr. Beto O’Rourke: Well, I don’t have the kind of experience when it comes to this issue that your other guest, Councilmember Bradford, does. I really respect the job he’s done as Chief. I know he’s now a council member in Houston and has dealt with this from a law enforcement perspective and now a policy perspective.

I really only became interested in the issue of drug policy about two years ago when Ciudad Juarez, our sister city, spiraled into a state of chaos due to, I think largely, drug wars, the drug prohibition in the US and obviously the drug demand in the US. All those came to a head in our sister city and we saw sixteen hundred killed that year.

In 2009, the next year, we saw over twenty-six hundred killed. The murder rate went up above more than two hundred per one hundred thousand residents, which made it statistically the deadliest city in the world. Including cities like Bagdad and cities in Afghanistan. This year, unfortunately, 2010 is on pace to surpass even 2009.

Because of all this, many of us in El Paso and in Juarez started to ask ourselves, ’Why is this violence taking place?’ ’What can we do to change the situation?’ Like me, many people in El Paso had never thought about drug policy or the drug war before. I’ve started thinking about that and have largely come to the conclusion that, while not a silver bullet and not the whole story, drug prohibition and the drug war and US drug policies do contribute a lot to what we’re seeing in cities like Ciudad Juarez.

Just to correct the record Dean, it’s been over five thousand people killed in the last two years. The twenty-two thousand number you sited is for Mexico at large. But both numbers are terrible and gruesome. Interestingly enough on the US side of the border in El Paso, the last two years we’ve had under fifteen murders for each year. One of the safest cities in the world and one of the safest cities in the United States.

It’s an interesting paradox, but it has a lot to do with where the drug policy is enforced and where the drugs are being transited and distributed and it has a lot to do between the relationship between the US and Mexico.

Dean Becker: Thank you, Beto O‘Rourke. Now, I wanted to read just a quick extract. Today, I looked at newspapers. There are several across the country that today have bold headlines, including the Houston Chronicle and I’ll get to that here, in just a minute. The El Paso Times, this is an everyday story. This is from Diana Washington,

“Several killed in Juarez, Chihuahua City, this weekend. Multiple murders rattled Juarez and Chihuahua City residents this weekend. The bodies of five men were found at the outskirts of Chihuahua State Capital. The men had been kidnapped from the city central supply and warehousing zone.

“Two women’s bodies were discovered inside the trunk of a Nissan Sedan. Another murder in Chihuahua City. Authorities had not determined whether a burned body found early today inside another Nissan, was that of a man or woman. Four men were killed Saturday night in Juarez, in front of the Las Cañas Club.” It never ends does it, Beto?

Mr. Beto O’Rourke: No, it’s terrible. This past week there was one day, I believe it was April 28th, when twenty-two people were killed; were murdered in Ciudad Juarez. Just across the river from where we are. Eleven of them were teenagers. One was a woman. Many of them happened in broad daylight. One of the attacks happened in front of a school, in broad daylight. Shocking hundreds of citizens who are in that area, just going through their daily lives.

Unfortunately part of their day to day existence in Juarez is seeing this kind of gruesome activity, that’s not localized to any one part of town, or really any one group. It’s the live-long been given to this assertion by some early on, that it was just bad people killing bad people. We know from the children killed, the young women killed, the clearly innocent people killed, that this violence is affecting and killing people of all stripes and people who are clearly innocent of any involvement in the drug war.

So it’s really a city that’s decended into a depth of chaos that someone like myself has never seen or been witness to. To the point where many of the Civic leaders, including the Mayor of Ciudad Juarez, do not live in that city anymore. They actually live here in El Paso, Texas or spend a good part of their day or have their families over here.

So it’s a city that’s lost civilian governmental control. It’s lost it’s purpose for being. We organize around public safety. The kind of job that former Chief Bradford did for his city in Houston, can no longer be done in Ciudad Juarez. Criminals kill and terrorize with impunity. It’s really a scary situation for the people in Juarez and scarry for us here in El Paso, as we watch that city decend into this level of lawlessness.

Dean Becker: Thank you. We’re speaking with Beto O’Rourke on the phone. We have with us in-studio, Clarence Bradford. City council member and former Police Chief of Houston. Clarence, I wanted to ask you, we were talking a minute ago about the fact that El Paso’s one of the safest cities in America. I have my own opinions on that. But do you want to address why that might be?

Mr. Clarence Bradford: I think it’s fair to say as we look at Texas and we look from region to region, whether it’s Dallas or San Antonio, El Paso and Houston. Different policies have been deployed and certainly different enforcement efforts have been deployed, to deal with the drug trafficking; the violent crime associated with drugs.

I think that when you look at the fact that Houston is a good proximity to the border. Port of Houston, major metropolitian area. We’ve done a pretty good job of our interdiction and enforcement efforts. But it is simply time, just from pure economics sense if nothing else, though there are many other reasons. But just from a pure economic standpoint, it’s time to look at ‘why’ we are locking up, ‘who’ we are locking up and the enforcement armament that we’ve spent billions, even trillions of dollars over the decades on this interdiction effort; on the enforcement effort.

But we know now, though empirical data, that the treatment component is just as important. The educational component is just as important as well as examine other ways to sanction people, other than confining people. You don’t have to lock everybody up in jail, to hold them accountable. Even in Texas in Harris County, we could be writing citations in some instances where we are in fact incarcerating people for low quantity possession of marijuana.

We’re not doing it. I haven’t crossed the line and say that we should legalize narcotics. I‘m not saying that. But I’m saying, let’s make some sense out of what we’re doing. What we’re doing today by incarcerating people, blocking precious bed space where violent criminals could be detained and having spent trillions of dollars over the decades, and the violence continues to go up. The drug trade continues to make billions of dollars. We’re not succeeding. That doesn’t make sense to me.

Dean Becker: Well, it was Albert Einstein who gave us the clue, I think, that ‘Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results, is the definition of insanity.’ That little intro piece talked about a hundred years and if you go back to the Opium Exclusion Act of 1909, it has indeed been over a hundred years, that we’ve been chasing this hope that we will stop all users from using and everybody from selling and it’s just not working out.

Beto, I wanted to get back to you with this thought. We had a conference down there at *UTEP... Was it November of last year?

Mr. Beto O’Rourke: Yeah. I think in October of ’09. Yeah.

Dean Becker: …and part of that was a trip over into Ciudad Juarez, where we heard a gentleman, I think it was from Columbia, speak. But while I was there, I got a chance to see the, I don’t know. It’s probably escalated from that point. But there were I think, federal officers - dark blue uniforms on every street corner. Three or four on each corner of the intersection and in every city park there was a machine gun nest sitting in the middle of the machine gun nest. It’s a heck of a way to run a city over there, right?

Mr. Beto O’Rourke: Yes. Like I’ve said, the civilian authority has basically, for all intents and purposes, collapsed completely in Juarez. You had President Calderon send in federal troops and federal police officers and there are problems associated with that. You have a level of impunity associated with those groups, in part because they’re not from the city. They’re routinely put into the city and then taken out on fairly short shifts. The human rights allegations have been alarming, associated with these troops.

More to the point, they have done absolutely nothing to slow the pace of the killing. In fact, after the incertion of federal troops and federal police in Ciudad Juarez, the pace of killing only increased. So again, it’s really a very sad situation and it would be foolish for me to say that changing drug policy in the US and/or in Mexico would solve the problem, because it wouldn’t. It certainly, I think, would help things.

If you just looked at marijuana, the White House estimates that eight to nine billion dollars of drug cartel revenues are associated with marijuana sales to US citizens. So if you could take eight to ten billion dollars out of the hands of these cartels, they’d be eight to ten billion dollars weaker as they’re buying arms, trying to recruit new members into their organizations, corrupting public officials. Frankly, corrupting people on both sides of the border. We know that there’s problems with corruption within the Border Patrol and enforcement agencies in the US. It’s rare, but it does happen and it‘s part of the same larger problem.

I think if you can look honestly at drug prohibition and make a more sensible policy and then if you could compliment that with the re-establishment of rule of law in Mexico, reforming their judicial system and tackeling some really thorny governance issues, all of them are tough problems. I think if you did all that, holistically I think you’d have a chance to stop a lot of the violence that we’re seeing in Mexico.

But I do think a critical component of that is drug policy and as Council member Bradford said, ‘On the US side, there is some significant problems. The least of which may be the forty billion dollars a year we’re spending, to very little effect in the US. That’s unsustainable. As a tax payer, I feel that.

I also think there’s some serious problems on who is ultimately caught and convicted in these crimes, what it does to a young person, typically a young man’s life, when he makes a bad decision at age eighteen or nineteen and we lose him as a productive member of society. Maybe for the rest of his life.

So there’s just some really thorny though issues for us to tackle as a community, in the case of Houston or El Paso, and then as a country. But we’ve got to do it, because it’s not going to go away. It’s been with us, as you said Dean, for at least a hundred years and in a very intense way for at least forty years. For us, here in El Paso/Juarez, in a critical way for the last two and a half years.

Dean Becker: Alright. Once again, that was Beto O’Rourke, El Paso City councilman. We have with us in-studio, Clarence Bradford, Houston City Councilman. Beto, I wanted to tack on a thought here. I’m looking at from International News. Dateline: Mexico City, April 27th. It says,

“The surge of gunbattles, beheadings and kidnappings that has accompanied Mexico's war on drug cartels is an entirely predictable escalation in violence based on decades of scientific literature, a new study contends.

A systematic review published Tuesday of more than 300 international studies dating back 20 years found that when police crack down on drug users and dealers, the result is almost always an increase in violence, say researchers at the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, a nonprofit group based in Britain and Canada.” {http://www.wtop.com/?nid=389&sid=1943569}

Now Chief Bradford, he was talking about marijuana. The fact is, I’ve heard it said by the assistant head of the DEA, Anthony Placido, that sixty or seventy percent of the profits from these cartels, is from the marijuana trade. It seems to me that that might be a way to at least begin to cripple them. By changing that policy. Your thought?

Mr. Clarence Bradford: Certainly, certainly. That makes sense to me and that’s consistent with my experience and the data that I’ve seen as well. I think as Councilman O’Rourke has said, when you look at the fact that we don’t have local control in some jurisdictions, we are damaging the life careers and other opportunities for our young men and women who make a mistake, at a young age.

Sure, they did something wrong. But what should their punisment be? They get flagged with a ‘rap’ sheet. They do their time. They get out. They can’t get employment and simply it’s ….. We can and we simply must do better. Without local control, without a civilian input, without a civilian authority being affected, we cannot provide the guiding, coaching, counciling that’s necessary for those young people who’re watching how those of us in control, now. How do we see things? How do we do things? What opportunities are we allowing for them?

Today, we’re not doing a very good job. It’s not that we would expect the marijuana peace to ‘cure’ all. But I think it’s time to have an open healthy discussion, from a policy standpoint. What do we want the end result to be and how do we get there? Right now, law enforcement is doing a really good job working hard from an enforcement standpoint; from an interdiction standpoint. But the end result, success… very dismal. We have to change that.

Dean Becker: OK. It’s tough to get politicians to talk about this subject. It’s just been the third rail for so long. But it’s beginning to change in many states across the country. Fourteen states now have Medical Marijuana laws. Another three or four are still considering it, in this current legislative session and various politicians at various levels of election are beginning to discuss this.

I’ve got a little clip out of Oregon, I want to share with you guys. Just about thirty seconds.

The following was recorded at a debate in Oregon between the two democratic Gubernatorial Candidates. The question is being posed to Secretary Bradbury.

Unknown: But, do you think that it’s a good idea to legalize marijuana and tax it, like we do liquor?

Secretary Bradbury: It might be. But you know, I have a feeling that the federal government would be pretty quickly step in and say, ’Sorry, you can’t do that.’

Dean Becker: Now, he’s looking for the federal government to step in, to take away his need to answer that question. Truth be told, the feds have already responded to that. They’re not going to force the State Governments; the state law enforcement, to enforce a federal law and the feds do not have the manpower to challenge even California, let alone the whole of the United States. Your response here, Chief.

Mr. Clarence Bradford: I think it goes back to local control in allowing a candid, open aberrant discussion on the issue. I don’t understand some of the officials who refuse to have a dialog. If you’re not willing to read the data, you don’t have access to the data, it indicates what we have been doing and failing to do, lest at least be receptive to a discussion. You can have a discussion, be openminded. We all may learn something from that, to contiue down the trail that we’re on that’s unconscionable and excusable, in my view.

Dean Becker: I would agree. Beto, your city does not have the arrest rate of Houston. We have chosen this, here. We may be Americas fourth largest city, but our arrest rates are even well beyond what that prorata share would be. Because we have chosen that stance over the years. It been ’handed down’ as if it were the Arc of the Covenant, from one generation of politicians to the next. But it’s time to open that box and have a look inside. Am I right?

Mr. Clarence Bradford: I think so. One thing I think is going to happen, Dean, whether we like it or not, I think those discussions will be easier to have, because our economy. The economy is simply going to force issues to be discussed and paradimes to shift that in past years were not possible to do. We simply are overcrowded in every detention facility that we have in the region and the state.

You cannot continue to tax citizens and say, ’Pay more.’ They’re overly strapped already, citizens and businesses are. So with the economy being what it is, I think we’re going to be forced, from a fiscal standpoint, to let’s have a discussion to do something differenty.

Dean Becker: Alright. Beto, you still with us?

Mr. Beto O’Rourke: I am and I have to agree completely with Councilmember Bradford. I think when you look back at the end of prohibition in 1933, it wasn’t that the country was saying that they thought consuming alcohol was a good thing. I think they were responding to many of the issues that the Council-member just brought up. The fact that at the depth of the Great Depression, you no longer had the resources to prosecute a failing war against alcohol.

The people who were enriched by alcohol, like the drug capos today, where the alcohol capos, the Al Capone’s, etc. of that day. Those people were only getting richer. The federal government was losing out on tax revenue and people who wanted to consume alcohol, were frankly consuming alcohol in rates toward the end of prohibition, that were greater than the consumption rates before the introduction of prohibition.

So it just came down to a very common sense decision for the American people. I think that’s largely what will happen in the US when it comes to marijuana prohibition. I don’t think that anyone necessarily is going to support ending prohibition, because they endorse smoking it. I don’t use marijuana. I have children. I don’t want them using marijuana. But frankly, the policy that we have in place today, you could not design a better policy than the one we have today, to get marijuana to our young kids.

The Department of Justice estimates there’s a little under a million teenage drug dealers in the Untied States, dealing everything from dope to crystal meth to cocaine to heroin. It’s largely because we aren’t doing some of the things the Councilmember Bradford’s talking about. Like having an honest discussion about it. Looking at treatment. Looking at rehabilitations. Speaking frankly with our kids about the choices that they’re going to face.

Instead we have an interdiction and enforcement and imprisonment model, that costs us about fourty billion dollars a year and has really done nothing to limit the availability and supply of these drugs to our kids and to other citizens in the US. I think it’s going to come down to a common sense decission and I think politicians and members of the media, present company excluded, have really done a disservice to the US. Because the assumption has always been that the American public is dumber than they are.

I think the American public get’s it, that the current policy is not working. They’re open to national leaders; local leaders, presenting alternate solutions. It’s not that they’re always going to agree with us, but I think they’ll respect us for being honest about it. Treating the issue as an adult. Having a rational discussion. Having it based on the data, as Councilman Bradford says. That’s what I’m looking for.

For us here in El Paso/Juarez, the situation is getting very dire, very critical. For me, it’s not so much anymore an issue of local control or local policy action. I really feel like we have to have some big change at the federal level, if we have any chance of stopping the kind of bloodshed and terrorism that we’re seeing in our border community.

Again, the statistically deadliest city in the world, right on our doorstep. As you’ve seen in Arizona and other border communities, the rhetoric and the politics is really ratcheting up as we become concerned about what this portends for the US. So I would like to deal with it proactively and have a solution that makes sense, rather than reactively once things get worse. Which seems inconceivable, but it certainly is on that trajectory, so far.

Dean Becker: Yes, it is. OK friends, that was Beto O’Rourke, El Paso City Councilman. We have with us in-studio, Clarence Bradford. A Houston City Councilman, our former Police Chief. We’re going to take this into the second hour, into the Century of Lies show. A special two parter, as we indicated at the beginning there.

In the second half hour, I want to take a couple of phone calls. I want the listeners to have a chance to speak to these two gentlemen. Our number here locally is (713) 526-5738. Or you can call from anywhere in North America by dialing 1-877-9-420 420. But again, we’ll be taking those calls in the second part of this program.

I tell you what. It wouldn’t be Cultural Baggage if we didn’t give you a chance to "Name That Drug - By It’s Side Effects!" and then we’ll be back to speak to these two councilmen here in just a moment.

Hey, man. This is Tommy Chong for the Pacifica Network telling everybody, “Don’t let free speech go up in smoke, man.”

This buds so good, that when I smoke it, the government freaks out.

To dream the American dream
To lie still and hope
With both of your eyes closed
To ignore the nightmare that surrounds you

Just to try, try to reach the American dream…

It’s time to play: "Name That Drug - By It’s Side Effects!"

Loss of personal freedom, family and possessions. Ineligible for government funding, education, licensing, housing or employment. Loss of aggressive mind set in a dangerous world. This drug’s peaceful, easy feeling can be habit forming.


Time's up! The answer: Doobie, jimmy, joint, reefer, spliff, jibber, jay, biffa, jazz, blunt, steege, greener, cracker, hogger, bone, carrot, maryjane, marijuana, cannabis sativa.

Made by God. Prohibited by man.

Alright, my friends. You are listening to the Cultural Baggage show. We’re going to have to wrap this up, here in a minute. But please stay tuned for Century of Lies, which follows on most of the Drug Truth Network programs.

You guys are the answer. When you speak these truths that we’re sharing with you today, then this thing will begin coming to an end. Again, I remind you. Because of prohibition, you don’t know what’s in that bag. Do you? Please, be careful.

To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the unvarnished truth.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.
Tap dancing on the edge on an abyss.

*UTEP = University of Texas at El Paso

Submitted by: C. Assenberg of www.marijuanafactorfiction.org