04/20/14 Edwin C. Sanders
Century of Lies
Religious Leaders Release "Easter Statement" Calling for an End to the War on Drugs and Mass Incarceration, with Rev. Edwin Sanders, Rev. Kenneth Glaskow, Rev. Robina Winbush, Rev. John E Jackson, Rev. Michael McBride and Mike Allen of End Mass Incarceration Houston
Century of Lies April 20, 2014
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. A broad coalition of Christian leaders have taken the occasion of the holiest day on the Christian calendar to release a statement calling for the end of the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, “The cross that faith leaders are imploring others to take up is this unjust and immoral War on Drugs and mass incarceration of the poor – in particular poor, black and brown young adults whose futures are being ruined at the most critical point in their lives. We are guided by our religious principles to serve those in need and give voice to those who have been marginalized and stigmatized by unjust policies. We cannot sit silently while this misguided war is waged on entire communities ostensibly under the guise of combatting the very real harms of drug abuse. The War on Drugs has become a costly, ineffective and unjust failure.” Says Reverend Edwin Sanders who is a board member of the Drug Policy Alliance and the Senior Servant for the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville, Tennessee.
This is the Reverend Edwin Sanders.
EDWIN SANDERS: This is an important day for us because we are very much aware of the ways the War on Drugs has translated into an outrageously negative and difficult impact on the lives of the people who we serve in our congregations and ministries and our various organizations across this country.
Today we are excited in that we have been able to put together a group of speakers, a number of clergy whose experience everyday puts them on the frontlines in a way that translates into their being able to address the themes that are central to our faith and are a part of our teachings of our biblical text, the themes of liberation, the themes of justice and freedom and the ways in which the War on Drugs has come to be outrageously negative statement of the inconsistency and the horror of the experience of so many people in our communities and our society today.
We have participating Pastor Kenneth Glaskow who is down in Alabama and is very much a part of a movement that is addressing the ways in which the War on Drugs is having a particularly negative impact upon folks in the south and the southeast but also a person who was formerly incarcerated and struggled with the problem that the whole issue that the War on Drugs has come to represent in his personal life.
We also have Reverend John Jackson who is a former Chicago police officer and is currently the pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Gary, Indiana. We’re excited because of the way in which he brings a perspective that is a byproduct of the work that he did in law enforcement and now as a clergy person helping us to understand where the contradiction exists and the ways in which we, as people of faith, need to be responding.
We are also excited that the Reverend Madeline McClenney is a part of this conversation today. Dr. Madeline, Reverend Madeline is in Huntersville, North Carolina. She is executive director of the Exodus Foundation which is dedicated to the employment and restitution of individuals returning to their communities after incarceration.
We also have Bill Mefford who works with the United Methodist Church, the general board based in Washington, D.C. which has been one of the denominations that has taken a strong position with the ways in which the War on Drugs is contributing to the continuing demise of the communities that we serve.
We also have Pastor Michael McBride who is director of Urban Strategies, of PICO which is an organization which is an acronym for People Improving Communities through Organizing and the work that they do in Berkeley, California is important in ways that I’m sure we will benefit from as this conversation goes on today.
Lastly we have the Reverend Rebina Winbush who is director of the Churches United in Christ which is a covenant relationship between Christian communions who have pledged to live more closely together in expressing their unity in Christ and combatting racism through Churches United in Christ.
I want to get to hearing from those persons who are a part of our panel today and I’m going to start...I couldn’t help but notice that there’s a pipeline in the middle of our country that I’m going to use as an initial point of reference because as I look at Reverend Winbush and I thought about Reverend Jackson and also Reverend Glaskow I’m going to call them the “I-65 Connection”. Interstate 65 starts in the heart of Alabama, runs north through Kentucky where Reverend Winbush is and then all the way up to Gary, Indiana where Reverend Jackson is located and where he has worked every day.
But whether it be the south or whether it be what we think of as middle America or the north the way in which this issue of mass incarceration plays out very similarly for all. I’m going to as you, if you would, Reverend Glaskow to give us an opening statement that helps to explain our conversation today.
KENNETH GLASKOW: The opening statement that I would look at is the when we look at mass incarceration, when we look at the drug war I always relate it to the prodigal son story. The reason I equate it to that is because it says that the son went out and lived a riotous life. That riotous life is can be equated to somebody who did a crime or got incarcerated, somebody who was on drugs, somebody who was living – according to society standards – different from what they were supposed to be productive or righteous.
When I look at that I look at us as a church of productive citizens. First of all I look at all of us as productive citizens as being people that got a good car, nice house as good. You are surviving. You are a good citizen but productivity means that every season...in the Bible it says that every season produces with his own kind. If you are not producing of those of who you consider unproductive then are you really productive? What are you producing?
But the father of the prodigal child what did he do? First of all he received him with open arms. We’re not doing that in church. We’re definitely not doing that in society and we can condemn instead of trying to commend. We incarcerate instead of trying to treat or restore.
The next thing he did is he took a set of calves which is what? The necessity of life – food, clothing and shelter. Then he gave him shoes on his feet. He covered him with code of colors. Those of us who know anything about seminary doing etymology on any words we know that that each color represents each emotion that you go through. Yellow is intelligence. Red is anger. Blue, gold, purple is when you go into a state of royalty, of spiritualism. We know how to read those orders. When they say Jesus had a halo over his head those code of colors covered all those different emotions.
So not only did he give him direction but he gave him council as well. The next and most important thing he did was he gave him a ring on his finger. That ring on his finger meant that he had the authority of the family. He could speak of the king because he had the ring of the king. He was part of the family. He was part and accepted as a citizen. He had the rights of a citizen and the authority thereof. He had a ring on his finger.
And then what did he do last? He had a party to celebrate him from coming back to his senses. These are the things that we are not doing. When it comes to mass incarceration, when it comes to the drug war we sit up here and allow something that has instituted innocence. In [inaudible] when they went to sign there were three legislators that held out and said, “We will not sign the freedom of these people until the 13th amendment is implemented.” And that 13th amendment states “No man shall be held under involuntary servitude or enslaved except for a felony conviction.”
After they gave us our civil rights, after they gave us voting rights in 1965 60 years later in 1971 they came with the drug war and took our voting rights back.
EDWIN SANDERS: Thank you, Reverend Glaskow. I appreciate the perspective and framing it in terms of the biblical text in a way that I’m sure will lend itself to an interesting dimension to our conversation.
Let’s go straight on up north on I-65 and ask Reverend Winbush is she will speak to this question.
REBINA WINBUSH: Thank you, Reverend Sanders and thank you Pastor Glaskow for getting us started.
As Christians we follow the one who in his inaugural sermon declared “the spirit of the lord is upon me to bring good news to the poor. The spirit has sent me to proclaim release of the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the lord savior.”
The ministry of Jesus the Christ was about challenging unjust systems that upheld individuals and marginalized communities in bondage. He empowered his disciples to touch lives and tear down strongholds of captivity. He commissioned them to care for those most vulnerable in society and give witness to the reign of God marked by justice.
Many Christians believe that the radical message of justice, love and transformation led to the conspiracy that cost Jesus his life. He was willing to be radically obedient to the will of God even knowing that it would cost him his life. He was unfairly arrested, detained and convicted in a “kangaroo court” and crucified on a cross. However, as Christians we also believe that God responded to this injustice and evil by raising Jesus from the dead – an eternal testimony that injustice and evil will not have the last word.
Churches United in Christ has identified the racial, economic and social injustices within our criminal justice system as a major issue of our time. According to statistics provided by the Sentencing Project the United States incarcerates more of its population than any other country in the world. More than 2.2 million people are either in prison, on parole or parole – many for non-violent drug offences.
This punishment disproportionately impacts people and communities of color. Together African-Americans and Latinos comprise 58% of all prisoners in 2008 even though African-Americans and Latinos make up approximately one-quarter of the US population.
According to civil rights legal scholar, Michelle Alexander, formerly incarcerated individuals suffer collateral consequences in the form of legalized discrimination in access to housing, employment, education, public benefits and the right to vote.
Churches United in Christ acknowledges that racial disparities within the criminal justice system are just one manifestation of institutionalized racism in our society. We also acknowledge and support the growing movement addressing this issue and seeking to engage in long-term strategies and solutions to end this injustice.
We recognize that systemic changes in drug sentencing laws. The need for prevention, treatment and education are critical. There is a need for restorative justice that allows individuals and communities to rebuild rather than a system that profits private corporations running prisons and continues to keep generations locked out of society.
As Christians we pray that we might follow Jesus in touching and advocating for those who are most marginalized. We seek to offer our lives and to sacrifice our silence to bring forth a more faithful justice system.
This week – which is most holy for us as Christians – also causes us to remember that in the midst of injustice and evil we are called to give witness to the God of justice, righteousness and love. We do this because we still believe the spirit of the lord is upon us to bring good news to the poor. The spirit is in us to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the lord savior.
EDWIN SANDERS: Thank you, very much. I really appreciate how both of you have given us some very important foundational points of reference in terms of the biblical text.
I’m going to ask next that we continue on up I-65 to Gary, Indiana. If Reverend Jackson would give his opening statement.
JOHN JACKSON: Thank you Reverend Sanders, Reverend Glaskow, Reverend Winbush.
The policies of this failed War on Drugs which, in reality, is a war on people who happen to be poor, primarily black and brown is a stain on the image of this society. Instead of trying to help individuals heal, become whole and have the help they need there are people who are being stigmatized for profit. Persons are preyed upon in this war on people who use drugs and they are used in the privatized prisons for profit, industrial commerce in this country and that is a heinous crime.
Police departments are encouraged by way of funding for the arrest and convictions for persons of non-violent infractions. These people live in the poorest communities and are being profiled. Black and brown boys and girls are being stopped and frisked which means they are being rifled through their clothes and their persons in order to find something to incarcerate them for.
Why these people? Because they are the least likely to have representation. There’s plenty of drugs in the pockets in persons that live in the suburbs but they have representation. This takes much needed police energy and strategy away from the real areas of violent crime that would help protect citizens yet it is also robs poor communities of their most precious resources and that is of young adult men and women in the prime of their lives marking them as unemployable, uneducable and unwelcome after they have served time for non-violent offences.
They can never return as a viable part of their family and community once they have been stigmatized by having served time for non-violent offence mind you. In this holy week we believe and remember a Palestinian Jew in North Africa who was also profiled, targeted, incarcerated and ultimately placed on death row where he was killed through oppressive policies of the government.
If this resurrection season means anything it means that people are to be loved and not used, that people should be helped and not harassed and that people should be placed above profit and that where there are policies and systems in government that oppress people that people of good will are obligated to stand up against those policies, to change those policies to place the ethic of love to lift people so that they can regain and be restored and resurrected into their societies and become viable human beings and part of the community once again.
EDWIN SANDERS: Thank you very much. We’ve heard the voices of clergy from the middle of America from north to south and now let’s see if we can drive that from east to west starting on the west coast. I want to ask Pastor McBride if he will give his opening statement.
MICHAEL McBRIDE: Thank you very much. I’m very honored to be here with all of my clergy, colleagues and allies in this very righteous fight and we are fighting. We stand in solidarity on this holy week continuing to call for not only the end to the War on Drugs but to the end to the mass incarceration of our loved ones.
We continue to believe that the greatest stimulant and catalyst for the mass incarceration of our loved ones is fueled by this failed War on Drugs that has spent billions and billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lost lives for a primarily public health issue.
We stand in solidarity declaring that we are organizing faith congregations, the people network through our life line campaign are organizing hundreds of congregations across this country, multi-racial, multi-faith congregations to stand together and build a safe and moral movement to address and redress the unjust policies that contribute to this failed War on Drugs and mass incarceration. The resurrection week, holy week reminds us that death not only does not have the final say but that God is able to take the worst things that happen in our lives and bring redemption out of it.
We declare that we stand with our brothers and sisters who have been railroaded by the United States criminal justice system. Many of whom have lost their right to vote - 1.5 Floridians cannot vote largely because of this failed War on Drugs, countless others cannot compete for meaningful employment because they have to disclose that they have a previous felony conviction.
We believe that mass incarceration is the civilized movement of our generation and the faith community is at the forefront. For the last several months and for the next 45 days we will continue our effort to mobilize and gather congregations and members on the hills of my Brother’s Keeper announcement that the president has made. We have been organizing and training several thousand multi-faith and multi-racial advocates to address issues related to our men and boys, our sons and our brothers and this is one of the singular issues.
We have training coming up in cities all across the country – Miami, Chattanooga, Nashville, Oakland, Los Angeles. We’ve been in cities in the south, the north and the east and the west. We want to call on all of us to join in this righteous fight to repeal he laws that criminalize drug possession and replace them with policies that creates effective health approaches.
We call on the elimination of policies that lead to racial profiling and disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates. We call for to an end to any policy that unjustly excludes people because they may have had a previous criminal history. We believe this is the moment and we are very glad to be standing together on this very holy week. We call for the moral force of our country to be brought to bear on this very important issue.
EDWIN SANDERS: Thank you very much. So we’ve been through the midlands and now we have heard from the west coast. From the east coast I want to ask right now if Bill Miffort from the United Methodist Church would give us an opening statement.
BILL MEFFORD: Thank you Reverend Sanders and thanks so much for including me in this cause. It is an honor to be with all my clergy leaders. I am the lone layperson on the cause so I’m very honored to be a part of this.
I was especially struck by when reminded by Reverend Winbush read the scripture from Luke which is when Jesus recalls the words of Isaiah and fulfills the prophecy – specifically the recovery proclaiming release to the captives, setting free and proclaiming liberation of the oppressed.
For those of us who follow Jesus this week marks not only a time to receive his grace but also to receive the calling that is applicable to all those who receive that gift of grace this Easter. We, too, are called to proclaim release to the captives and freedom to the oppressed.
Unfortunately because the United States imprisons more people than any other nation on earth we do not have to go far to proclaim Jesus’s message of liberation. We are first in the world in mass incarceration. One of the main drivers of this sin is the War on Drugs. 40 years of failed policies that have done little to nothing to curb drug dependence and have, instead, broken up families, destroyed communities and cost billions of dollars.
Fortunately just as receive hope this week in resurrection this Sunday there are steps that we can take as a nation that are even before us right now to extricate ourselves from our own captivity in mass incarceration.
A small step but a significant step is the Smarter Sentencing Act. It’s a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators Mike Lee and Richard Durbin. The legislation is an incremental step towards justice reform that would address the costly overcrowding crisis in the bureau of prisons by cutting in half the mandatory-minimum sentences for low-level drug offences and by authorizing judicial review of cases sentenced under the old 100-1 crack/cocaine sentencing disparity for possible re-sentencing.
I chair the largest and only faith coalition to reform the criminal justice system on Capitol Hill. The Faith and Action Criminal Justice Reform Working Group is made up of over 35 faith organizations representing millions of people from all faiths from all walks of life throughout the country and our primary goal this year is to see the Smarter Sentencing Act enacted.
We have met with numerous offices. We have enacted our grassroots folks all over the country and our coalition members even throughout the month of April are sending letters every single day to every Senate office urging them to move on this bill during the month of May.
Throughout the US members of our denominations and organizations dedicate countless hours to aiding, ministering with and advocating alongside of people impacted by the criminal justice system. We are gravely concerned that overly punitive mandatory-minimum sentences for drug offences passed by congress nearly 30 years ago have disproportionately and unfairly incarcerated people of color for low-level and non-violent offences.
The US Sentencing Commission has testified that opportunities for release from them are often less available to African-American defendants than any other group. Passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act would help restore fairness in our justice system by limiting this existing racial disparity. Therefor we urge Leader Reid to make the passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act a priority during the month of May.
Thank you very much.
EDWIN SANDERS: Thank you very much. Thank all of you for your powerful opening statements. In my own simplistic way one of the things that I had in my mind as I drew that line of I-65 – north, south and then the move from east to west – in my mind that also allowed me to have the image of the cross. In the midst of this week it is that image that is before us and represents and compels us to take the positions that we take and to do it in a way that allows us to be in harmony with those who speak not only out of our faith as Christians but also those who across the board [inaudible] have that traditions who clearly recognize those same principles that administers the same ideals of justice and transformation and freedom.
DEAN BECKER: Those words of inspiration courtesy of the Drug Policy Alliance, http://drugpolicy.org.
MIKE ALLEN: My name is Mike Allen. I’m with End Mass Incarceration, Houston. We organize events around Houston to bring attention to the problem with the over incarceration of American citizens and residence in our country.
DEAN BECKER: I’ve been involved in a couple of efforts – a Martin Luther King, Jr. parade and the presents we handed out down at the jail – but what’s next on the horizon here?
MIKE ALLEN: We’re going to go ahead and march in the May Day Parade here in Houston. We’re going to have a coalition of different groups. We hope to have Houston Peace and Justice Center out there, Alliance of Mexicana, End Mass Incarceration, Houston and a few other groups. We’re putting it together now to have that march.
Beyond that we’re also going to show on the 14t h a movie about juvenile justice at the Unitarian Church in the evening down on Fanning Blvd in Houston.
DEAN BECKER: A lot of folks are starting to recognize that they need to get involved, that it could be their children, it could be them next that gets swallowed up by this machinery, this mass incarceration effort.
If they don’t have any money they can certainly get involved with their feet and their hands and their votes, right?
MIKE ALLEN: You’re right. We’re out here at the Houston NORML 420 celebration. It’s like I was telling them they are accomplishing things because they’ve kept their focus on organizing and pushing and pushing and pushing and that’s what our thinking is at End Mass Incarceration, Houston. We’re going to keep hitting this and hitting this and hitting this until people wake up and enough people decide that they ‘ve got to do something.
It’s terrible to say but our country is based on the dollar. Bankers stand to lose a lot of money if we legalize pot or if we close down jail. Somebody told me for every person we put in jail 16 people make money. There’s something wrong with this picture and we need to stop it. We’re building an economy on locking each other up and there is something inherently sick about this behavior.
DEAN BECKER: If folks want to learn more about these efforts where do they go on the web?
MIKE ALLEN: They can go to Facebook – endmassincarcerationhouston. We post the events that we are hosting. We have a forum of different links from around the country highlighting the problems with mass incarceration. Get networked in and stand up and change this country.
I love my country. If you love your country...it’s being taken away from you whether you realize it or not. Turn off the TV the house is on fire.
DEAN BECKER: I have many more words of inspiration in my new book, “To End the War On Drugs: A Guide for Politicians, the Press and Public” available on Amazon and Kindle.
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