11/22/15 Deborah Small

Century of Lies

This week in part one of our coverage of the Drug Policy Alliance's international reform conference, we hear from Deborah Peterson-Small of Break The Chains, we talk with Martha's mum Anne-Marie Cockburn, and we say goodbye to a good friend who recently passed away, Thomas J. O'Connell, MD.

Audio file


NOVEMBER 22, 2015


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.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello! And welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network.

Now, on with the show.

Well folks, this is a live recording from Crystal City, Virginia, which is the location of the Drug Policy Alliance's International Reform Conference. It's held November 18-20th, it is the last day of the conference as I record these words, and I'm getting ready to finish producing this show so that y'all can learn about what just happened. This is part one of our coverage of the International Reform Conference. The Drug Policy Alliance puts these on every two years, they are terrific events, very energizing, very inspiring, and incredibly informative.

Before we get started, there is a rather sad piece of news which I received earlier this week. A good friend, a fellow reformer, my doctor, Thomas J. O'Connell, passed away recently. He was 83 years old, and he was suffering from cancer. Tom was a friend, and he was also a visionary. He was on top of some of the most important elements of our drug war story before anyone else, and he pursued them doggedly.

Back in 2007, he wrote an article in the Harm Reduction Journal based upon his research into medical cannabis use among a particular cohort, basically people who grew up in the Baby Boom generation. The product, essentially, of intergenerational post traumatic stress disorder. What happens when you're brought up by people who have untreated PTSD? Well, what happens is a lot them end up self-medicating. They use marijuana if it's available, they may use alcohol, they may use harder drugs. But he found a unique link in a group that no one else had noticed. I remember arguing with him one day. I'm in that Baby Boomer cohort. I remember arguing with him for a solid three hours on a telephone call, as I participated in his interview process. I'm one of the people in that database.

Well, I argued with him, and I denied a lot of stuff. I had to admit he was right as we were going along, but, you know, I'm exceptional, and the more I've learned, the more I've thought about it, the more I've realized that Tom was simply right. He simply was right. The conclusion of that article:

"This study yielded a somewhat unexpected profile of a hitherto hidden population of users of America's most popular illegal drug. It also raises questions about some of the basic assumptions held by both proponents and opponents of current policy."

As I say, Tom was right. One of the biggest regrets in my life, that I do not have the chance to tell him out loud in person. Tom, you were right. The article, for folks who are interested, is "Long term marijuana users seeking medical cannabis in California (2001–2007): demographics, social characteristics, patterns of cannabis and other drug use of 4,117 applicants." It is presently the fifth most often viewed article in the HarmReductionJournal.com website. Again, Thomas J. O'Connell's "Long term marijuana users seeking medical cannabis in California (2001–2007)." It was a prescient piece of research, and, like many others, I argued with him about it, and I have to admit, he was right.

That's not the only thing he was right about. For the last couple of years before he died, he had been sending along some emails to my friend and colleague Robert Field and I on the subject of police shootings. He was concerned about what he saw as he was looking at media reports. He was concerned that there was in fact a rising tide of violence by police against people, especially in communities of color. Police killings and police shootings. On July 19th, 2014, he wrote a blog post, which, again, very prescient, and just to keep it in context, August 9th, 2014 is the date when Ferguson police shot and killed Michael Brown, an innocent and unarmed African American.

On July 19th of 2014, Thomas J. O'Connell, on his blog, DoctorTom.org, wrote this piece, it's titled "Police Shootings." I'm going to, I'm just going to go ahead and read it for you.

"Even before starting to take histories from applicants hoping to use cannabis legally in California, I'd spent 4 years - from 1997 to 2001 - editing a weekly newsletter based on a database of media reports on the drug war. Because it required reading about three hundred news items a week, it became an intense education on how our drug policy was corrupting the nation and encouraging gross injustice.

"It soon became clear that that police agencies at all levels had to participate in the policy to make it work; also that they required almost complete legal immunity for whatever untoward events their enforcement activities might produce.

"I recently had occasion to recall two particularly egregious cases from that early experience; both involved people of color who had come to the attention of police during Rudy Giuliani's tenure as New York's mayor. One was the 1999 case of a man named Amadu Diallo in what turned out to be a case of mistaken suspicion. Because he was thought to resemble the description of a serial rapist, Diallo was hailed by four plain clothes cops. Apparently spooked, and not realizing the men were police, Diallo ran for the apparent security of his apartment building, with its automatically locking door (for which he had the key). Once inside the vestibule and apparently still confused, he reached for his wallet. One of the officers, thinking he was reaching for a weapon, shouted "Gun!" 19 of the ensuing 41 shots struck Diallo, killing him instantly.

"News reports of the event soon led to demands that charges be filed against the police. A change of venue to the state capital in Albany, was granted, where a predictably conservative jury recommended dropping all charges.

"The other case, although equally shocking had a much happier outcome; primarily because the victim, although treated with equal disregard by NYC's "finest," survived his ordeal, collected a large settlement, and has continued to advocate on behalf of police reform. If there are any bright spots in this narrative, they have to do with Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant who also ran afoul of the NYPD two years before Diallo, but managed to survive. Clearly, in a tort liability case, a living victim the jury can identify with is worth a lot more in court than a dead one.

"I just had occasion to learn of another case in the nearby town of Santa Rosa, one that could serve as a Rosetta Stone for the realities of modern American "Criminal Justice" in the nation we're all so proud of. Our cops seem now to be able to gun down any citizen they have "probable cause" to think is carrying a firearm and represents a threat, even if he's an immature 13-year old Eighth grader carrying a toy gun down a sunny street on a school afternoon.

"In fact, it's been worse that that for a long time. The evidence of police wrongdoing is everywhere; we've simply been looking past it for years."

That again was by Dr. Thomas J. O'Connell, an MD who used to practice in California. My doctor. It was a blog post titled "Police Shootings," posted July 19th, 2014, on DoctorTom.org. That's DOCTORTOM.org.

Again, sorry for having to say it too late for you to be able to hear it, but you were right. You were so right.

And now, we're going to turn to our coverage of the Drug Policy Alliance's International Reform Conference.

ANNE-MARIE COCKBURN: My name is Anne-Marie Cockburn. I am Martha's mum.

DOUG MCVAY: Please tell me about Martha.

ANNE-MARIE COCKBURN: Martha was my only child. She was a wonderful human being, and taught me lots in life. I never thought I'd be sitting here in this position, that's for sure, so I'm still in shock. But I lost my girl two years ago to an accidental ecstasy overdose, in a beautiful part of Oxford in England. So I've come over to Washington to meet other families like me, for our collective voices to be heard in order that we can push for changes to the drug laws.

DOUG MCVAY: I want to get to your book, 5,742 Days, in a moment, but first, I want to find out about Anyone's Child.

ANNE-MARIE COCKBURN: Well, Anyone's Child is a project which consists of families who have been adversely affected by the drug laws. In the UK for the past year we've been meeting, we've been doing some media, we've been to Downing Street to hand in a letter to David Cameron to demand change, because our stories show how inadequate and outdated the current drug laws are. We can't have this being something that becomes normalized. You know, there are 50 deaths in the UK every week at the moment, although the government don't want you to know that. And when your 15 year old child dies, of having had easy access to dangerous drugs, as all children do, you know, you start to ask questions. You start to look for answers. And that's what I've been doing ever since, and I've been making it very difficult for politicians in the UK to stick to the party line and to continue to support prohibition, which never worked for alcohol and it does not work for drugs.

DOUG MCVAY: You've been working along with the folks at Transform --


DOUG MCVAY: -- my friend Steve Rolles and all the rest, in preparing for the upcoming United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs, the UNGASS. Talk to me about that.

ANNE-MARIE COCKBURN: Well, we know that it's been brought forward four years because of the problems in South America particularly, you know, and I'm always saying to people here, if we don't sort this out, that is our future. The plan is, we're going to take families from different regions from across the world to UNGASS. We're going to be standing outside there, with either pictures of our loved ones or their empty shoes, and we are going to make it very, very difficult for them, but we want to show them the human cost, because amongst policy, you can become very clinical and they can forget, you know, what is resulting in those laws. But we are there to show them, this is the true cost. Now, we don't want our stories to become your stories, so you've got to sort something out now, you know, because, you know, it's not good enough to be us.

DOUG MCVAY: That is terrific. Now, I think I'm ready to ask you about, about your book, about 5,742 Days.

ANNE-MARIE COCKBURN: Well, within a few hours of Martha dying, I got my laptop out and I needed to get out the agony that was in my head. I was clambering around trying to clear out the mess, having lost my only child a few hours previously, and I started to write, and I couldn't stop. I wrote for three days without stopping for a break, and I wrote my diary of the first 102 days without her and it finished on what would have been her sixteenth birthday.

I'm very grateful for the book. It's now being used in schools, it's being used with parents and teenagers, it's being used by bereavement counselors, and -- yeah. It depicts a parent, a real-time account of the aftermath of losing their child and it shows you what was going on in my mind, and -- yeah. There's now a play of the book, in fact, and the play is called What Martha Did Next. So, that's a wonderful byproduct of my sad story. So, I write to help myself, I write to keep myself company, I live by myself, I'm a single parent. And, by being able to write, I can try to make some sense of it, but I can also write for, you know, I've written for the Huffington Post and MumsNet, and by being able to do that I can communicate out to the world, to other families, normal families and so on, and say, please listen to my writing, please listen to what I'm saying, because I'm doing this, it's a safety first approach to drug policy that I believe in. And, I want to save lives. I don't want the world to lose another Martha.

DOUG MCVAY: Anne-Marie, I'm so very sorry for your loss.


DOUG MCVAY: And I am so very grateful to you for turning that grief into something as powerful as what you're doing.

ANNE-MARIE COCKBURN: Thank you. It's been lovely to speak to you.

DOUG MCVAY: Oh, you're not done yet, because I have to ask, where can people find your book, and do you have a website? That kind of stuff. How can people find out more?

ANNE-MARIE COCKBURN: I have a lovely website called WhatMarthaDidNext.org, and you can also, if you want to talk to me about the Anyone's Child Project, or get involved, we're collecting stories all the time. If anyone has a story, and they want to get involved, we're looking for some funding to transport families from across the world so that we can all get to the UNGASS meeting as well. But, I have my website, which tells everyone what I get up to, all my interviews are on there. I've conducted probably about 80 interviews throughout the UK. When I'm finished in the US for this visit, I'm going over to Italy to attend a harm reduction conference with parents and teenagers.

Yes, so I'm very busy, and it's great, because it gives me a purpose in the aftermath of what's happened. So, yeah, I'm always getting emails from bereaved parents, newly bereaved parents, sadly, and also parents who are very concerned about their child's drug taking, or they're starting to dabble or be curious and so on, and asking for my advice, so I give basic harm reduction information, which is very important for modern teenagers. You know, I said the Just Say No thing to my oh-so-modern teenager, and within a few weeks she was dead. Now, it's about converting that "No" into what they need to know. I wish I had had the bravery to have a harm reduction conversation with my child. You know, I've gone on the record saying Martha wanted to get high, she did not want to die. No parent wants either, but there's one of those that's preferable to the other. You know, you cannot recover from being dead.

DOUG MCVAY: You know, I started working on drug policy back in the 1980s, when Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" was happening, and, and what you just said, suddenly struck -- you know, have the courage to have the tough conversation. Don't just cop out. That's the ...

ANNE-MARIE COCKBURN: Well, I'm having to have tougher conversations now, because I didn't know enough about harm reduction. I did not know how to deal with this subject with my child because I'd been brought up -- I was born in '71, when all the Nixon stuff was going off, you know? I mean, I spoke to people the other day and I said, I wonder what Nancy Reagan would say to herself now, you know, I wonder if she would still defend her previous line. I know it was well intended, but you've got to use evidence, you've got to look at the kind of, the cost to lives, it's the biggest black market in the world, you know.

And, you know, it's a bit like a business. If a business is failing, and the infrastructure or the original plan doesn't work, you've got to go back to the drawing board and think, right guys, we need to readdress this. There's best practices now, there's amazing stuff going on around the world in places like Portugal and Switzerland. The statistics speak for themselves. In Portugal, there are three overdose deaths per million. In the UK, it's 44.6. Now, you don't need to agree with it, but you've got common sense behind that, saying something, they're doing something right, you know, so let's look at what they are doing and let's maybe adopt some best practice and some common sense approaches to this subject.

We need to get the stigma and the rhetoric out of the closet in respect to this subject and have open and honest discussion, which means that people who need help can get easy access to help, and young people can be fully educated on it.

DOUG MCVAY: And, just once again, for the benefit of the listeners, the website?

ANNE-MARIE COCKBURN: Well, my website is WhatMarthaDidNext.org, and from there, they can get in touch with me to talk about the Anyone's Child Project, or there's a link to my book. The book is also available on Amazon.com, it's an eBook as well. And, yeah, I've had amazing feedback from around the world with regards to my book. So, it's as if I'm being an active mum, still. You know, I don't -- I used to always be referred to as "Martha's mum." I don't hear that anymore, so that's why I introduce myself as that because to me, it's the best label you can have. To be a mother is a privilege, to be a parent is like winning the lottery. Yeah.

DOUG MCVAY: I cannot thank you enough, and all the, and I wish you all the luck in the world.

ANNE-MARIE COCKBURN: Thank you so much for spending the time with me. Thank you.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Anne-Marie Cockburn, she's the author of 5,742 Days. She's Martha's mum.

You're listening to Century Of Lies, a production of the DrugTruthNetwork for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

And now, with the time we have left, we're going to hear from one of the best speakers at the conference. She is one of the most brilliant people I've known, a fantastic organizer, a terrific advocate, a champion of human and civil rights, Deborah Peterson Small. She's the executive director and founder of an organization called Break The Chains, which focuses on criminal justice and prison reform.

ASHA BANDALE: So, I'm going to begin the conversation with you, Deborah, just so that we're sort of all operating from the same playbook. Just to talk a little bit about some of the policies that are desperately important to end for the Black Lives Matter movement that have their roots and their beginnings in the drug war.

DEBORAH PETERSON SMALL: Thank you, asha. Thank you all for being here. Thank you all for being here. I want to acknowledge the space that had you all be here this evening. You could be doing a lot of other things. So, it means a lot to me that folks have decided to take the time to be in this room. And, that question, to me, is a really interesting question, because it seems like it's easy to answer, but from my point of view, it actually isn't easy to answer. And I feel like we are really at a historic moment right now, because we're actually in a moment that, where freedom looks differently for people than how we've held it before. So I really appreciated the way that you opened, by talking about the obligation to fight for our freedom, and I want to hearken back to something that was said by one of the speakers this morning, quoting Harriet Tubman, when she said that she could have freed more slaves if they had known that they were slaves.

And I thought about that a lot, because I was like, how could people who are in shackles and chains not know that they're slaves? What is it that she was saying? And she was really talking about the psychology of enslavement, that has you think you're free when you're not. And so for me, this conversation is also a conversation about white people who believe that they're free when they're not. Okeh? At a certain level, we're entering this conversation at a higher level because we already know that we're not free. So we're not living inside of the chain and box of believing that we don't have freedom to fight for. I worry about the people who live inside the box who actually believe that they're free, who believe that police are your friends, who believe that they're actually, they're protecting you. That they're there to protect and serve you. They're -- we're clear that they're there to kill us. We don't have a lot of illusions about that. But you all have a lot of illusions about the role that the police and law enforcement is playing in your lives, and the way in which you've become mental slaves and wage slaves to a system that you don't totally understand.

So for me, we represent a space of a certain level of clarity around all of the different permutations that enslavement has taken the form of. So first, it was the actual physical chains of enslavement, of being tied. And for me, policing is the way in which white America continues to replicate the cycle of enslavement, that reminds itself of the power relationship on which this society is based. Every time a black person is arrested, every time the shackles are put on their wrists, every time they're thrown into the cell, for whatever the reason, whether it lasts for a day or a month or a hundred years, it is a re-enactment of the basis on which, of the basic understanding on which this country was founded. And from my point of view, it is incompatible with what we claim to believe.

Our understandings and our problems with policing emanate from that, because we believe two things that are incompatible with each other. One is that we live in a free country, that's democratic, where anybody who's willing to work hard and abide by the rules can achieve success and happiness, and be protected. But we also believe that this was a country established by and for the benefit of white men, and that is, that America is a white country. And that they get to decide who else has rights, and how much rights they have, and whether or not they'll be enforced. Those two things are incompatible, and what we're seeing now is the inability to continue to be in denial about the ways in which those things are incompatible. Because black people have been saying, for decades and decades and decades, what's been happening in our community, and white folks have pretended not to hear us, or have been in denial about it because they didn't actually have to see it.

Technology now makes it irrefutable, and even then, people want to come up with excuses for why it is that that happened, but that's aside from the fact. The reality is, is that it's no longer possible to pretend that what's been happening for two hundred and some odd years isn't actually happening.

And the last thing that I want to say, is that everything that happens to us is a precursor of what is in store for you. So if you don't understand that, then you don't understand that our fight for freedom is your fight for freedom, because one of the burdens of oppressed people is to be the agent and the catalyst of the freedom of their oppressors.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Deborah Peterson Small, the founder and executive director of Break The Chains, a criminal justice reform organization, speaking at the Drug Policy Alliance's International Reform Conference, which was held November 18th through 22nd in Crystal City, Virginia. This was part one of our coverage of the conference. We'll have more from the conference on next week's show.

And for now, that's all the time we have. Thank you for listening. This is 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.

Century Of Lies is heard at 420Radio.org on Mondays at 11am and 11pm, Saturdays at 4am, all times are pacific. We're heard on time4hemp.com on Wednesdays between 1 and 2pm pacific along with our sister program Cultural Baggage. We're on The Detour Talk Network at thedetour.us on Tuesdays at 8:30pm. And we're heard on Grateful Dread Public Radio at GDPRNashville.org on Saturdays between 8 and 9 pm pacific along with our sister program Cultural Baggage.

Here's a shout-out to some of the stations out there carrying Century Of Lies, including: WERU 89.9 FM in Blue Hill, Maine; WIEC 102.7 FM in Eau Claire, Wisconsin; WGOT-LP 94.7 FM in Gainesville, Florida; KRFP 90.3 FM in Moscow, Idaho; Valley Free Radio WXOJ-LP 103.3 FM in Northampton, Massachusetts; KOWA-LP 106.5 FM in Olympia, Washington; and Free Radio Santa Cruz 101.3 fm in Santa Cruz California. To all of our listeners and supporters: Thank you.

If you work with a public, community, or college nonprofit radio station and you're interested in carrying this show or any of the fine programming from the Drug Truth Network, it's available for syndication and rebroadcast free of charge. Full-length, high definition copies of the audio files can be downloaded directly from the Drug Truth website at DrugTruth.net, or through the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network's audioport.

The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please be sure to give its page a Like. Drug War Facts is on facebook too, give it a like and share it with friends. Follow me on Twitter, I'm @DrugPolicyFacts and of course also @DougMcVay.

We'll be back next week with more news and commentary on 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.