11/04/16 James Gierach

James Gierach, retired Chicago prosecutor, LEAP board member + Piper Kerman, author Orange is the New Black, Deborah Small, Johns Hopkins Public Health Fellow & Drug Policy Alliance├ö├Â┬úÔö£├é├ö├Â┬úÔö£┬║├ö├Â┬úÔö£Ôòùs Asha Bandele

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Friday, November 4, 2016
James Gierach



NOVEMBER 4, 2016


DEAN BECKER: Hi folks, this is Dean Becker, thank you for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. Here in a little bit we'll hear from former Chicago prosecutor James Gierach, but first: last week, we focused on a conference put together by the Drug Policy Alliance and TheRoot.com. It featured Piper Kerman, author of Orange Is The New Black; Deborah Small, a Johns Hopkins public health fellow; and the Drug Policy Alliance's Asha Bandale. This is a continuation, they're answering the questions coming over the phone and over the internet.

DANIELLE: The count watching right now, we have over 700 people, so I'm very excited about that. Well, thank you guys for watching. One of the questions that really stuck out: How is Prop 64 social justice and criminal justice reform, especially for young people? So how does that work for young people?

DEAN BECKER: To help introduce you to the voices, this is Deborah Small.

DEBORAH SMALL: So, I mean, I think that this is really, really important, because the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which is the name for Prop 64, applies to people 21 and older. And it allows them to be able to go into any state-licensed place and buy marijuana, the same way that you can buy alcohol or beer or cigarettes. For people under 21, they would not have the right to go into one of those places, but what the statute does do is remove all criminal penalties, even for youth, for possessing or using marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: This is the DPA's Asha Bandale.

ASHA BANDALE: And it's retroactive, so if you have already have -- but if you are a young person who right now has that on your record, you can now get that expunged if Prop 64 is passed on November Eighth.

DEBORAH SMALL: And it also means that if you're someone who's under 21, and you happen to get caught by the police with a joint or whatever with your friends, the worst that can happen is that you could get a fine or an infraction, or some kind of community counseling, but you're not going to go to jail, you're not going to be arrested, you're not going to get a criminal record. So we're no longer going to be using the marijuana laws as a headstart to prison for young people, or as a way to allow police to target quote unquote "gang bangers" using the marijuana laws as the way to identify them.

ASHA BANDALE: Right, and the smell, or the idea that marijuana is, like, if you're in a car, but that it's not reasonable to do a search anymore. All right? So, I think that that's another big deal. You know, what we're trying to do is, you know, no law is going to end racism, or police violence. I don't think there's any one law. We had a civil rights movement, and a black power movement, that didn't do that, but what this law effectively does for young people is take away one of the major tools that law enforcement has used to target young people in communities of color.

DEBORAH SMALL: And I just want to say one other thing, because in addition to taking the tool away from law enforcement, it also takes the tool away from the community, because quite frankly, one of the things that I really found disturbing is that oftentimes when you have one of these police killings, or officer involved shootings, the first thing that they'll come out with is some information that the young person used marijuana at some point in the past. And then, the community starts to see them as less than innocent, because, you know, they smoked weed, or maybe they had a marijuana possession arrest, or whatever. And so it becomes a way not just only to justify police targeting, but also to justify the community's rejection of this young person as not being worthy of protection because they were involved in an illegal activity. Well, if it's not illegal anymore, they're not a criminal anymore.

ASHA BANDALE: You know, Piper, think a bit about young people from a parent's point of view. You knew plenty of women who were parents, and, what did you see that it meant to have children -- you have a child now, but you didn't then. What did you see that it meant when somebody had to come and visit their mom in jail or prison?

PIPER KERMAN: Oh my god, it's devastating to family, it's -- we know that for children of incarcerated parents, they worry about their parents' safety, they feel confused by the incarceration, often kids feel like somehow they are to blame. Kids of incarcerated parents deal with stresses that are so outside of, you know, sort of the ordinary experience of a kid whose family has not been targeted and impacted by the criminal justice system.

We know statistically that children of incarcerated parents often may end up in the system themselves, though many kids do not, many kids are very resilient and go on, and their parents can't come home, and as families are able to be reunited and to care for one another, but when we think about something like marijuana prohibition, it's hard not to just shake your head and say, what a tragic waste of money, what a tragic imposition of cost, on the communities that frankly, you know, are most needing reparations and most needing resources, and not punishment. So, yeah.

ASHA BANDALE: Yeah. Thank you both for that, and Danielle, do we have another question?

DANIELLE: We do. What kind of local projects can be developed by communities to tackle the problem of women and mass incarceration?

DEAN BECKER: Author of Orange Is The New Black, this is Piper Kerman.

PIPER KERMAN: Oh, there's a lot of different overlapping things. We know that the consistent throughlines that drive women's possible involvement in crime and certainly women's incarceration are, you know, sometimes mental health issues, sometimes addiction or substance use disorder, but overwhelmingly, the experience of sexual abuse or other physical abuse. Between 80 and 90 percent of incarcerated women and girls report having been victimized prior to their incarceration. So, making sure that girls are -- and boys, are safe, that the children are safe, but paying special attention to making sure that girls are safe in school, at home, is incredibly important.

We've seen, there's an amazing book that came out this year called Pushout, specifically about the criminalization of black girls in schools.

ASHA BANDALE: And let's shout out Monique Morris, let's shout out Monique Morris, who's been doing this, working on this job for 15 or 20 years I've known her, thank you.

PIPER KERMAN: Yes, so, Monique Morris's book Pushout is a must read, because it focuses on how our schools are not doing what they need to do, specifically for black girls, and how the minute a kid -- we can all wrap heads around the fact that the minute a kid leaves secondary school, that their chance of going into the criminal justice system just went way up, when a kid doesn't complete high school. And so, changing what we do specifically for girls to make sure that they stay in school, that they complete school. Overlapping questions of the experience of things like domestic violence, or, you know, intimate partner violence, are incredibly significant. That has a huge amount to do with the problems that sometimes lead to mental health problems, or to substance use disorder.

So, getting involved in your community with all measures to help make sure that girls are safe, and to make sure that girls succeed in school, will do a lot. And getting involved with domestic violence survivors and aid the organizations that help make women and families safe in your communities, that's how we sort of cut off the flow of women and girls into the criminal justice system. Those are some of the most important ways.

ASHA BANDALE: Thank you, Piper, thank you so much. Any thoughts on the programs that women might need? I feel like you were on a board of a -- yes.

DEBORAH SMALL: Yes, the Greenhope Services for Women in New York. It has a 30 year history of serving women, and the thing that I learned from my experience with Greenhope is that the main issue women have was not getting off of drugs. It was about rebuilding their lives. And so to me, you know, we ask the wrong questions. It's like, I often think that it's unreasonable to expect people to be clean and sober just to go back to miserable abusive lives that they had before they started using drugs. So that's one thing. But more specifically --

ASHA BANDALE: May make more sense to not be sober if you're --

DEBORAH SMALL: Well, the act of using drugs is not a rational decision, it stems from the lives that people are living. And that, if we -- and that -- criminalizing it only make it worse. But there are three things in particular that I think, that as a policy solution, because I'm a policy person, would make a big difference for women.

One is this: women should never, ever be incarcerated -- if we thought of prisons as the scarce resource that they are, because they cost a lot of money, okeh, they really do, they cost a lot of money. So if we saw it as a scarce resource, as something that you use as the last resort, then women should never be incarcerated unless they pose a risk to themselves or others. Which would get rid of more than 85 percent of the women that we have behind bars right now, if we had that as a rule.

Number two: we should never lock a person up more than a hundred miles away from where they committed their crime, which would do a lot to make sure that people could have their families together.

And then the third thing that I think is really important for our audience to think about is that every single state in this country will spend more money to keep a person behind bars than they will to feed a family of four. Now, we know that poverty is feminized in this country, that the majority of the people who are poor who are living in poverty are women with children, and yet we do not in any single state give enough welfare benefits to put a family at the poverty level, but we will spend more than that to keep them behind bars. And to me, that is a statement about who we are as a society, what we prioritize, what we think is important, which is not investing in people, not supporting families, not protecting women, but punishing them. And extorting from them, and extracting from them, and them blaming them for their own conditions.

ASHA BANDALE: So appreciate that point, and you know Deborah the single greatest predictor of the person who's going to be lowest on the income pole is going to be a single black mother. That's the single biggest predictor. So, Danielle, how are we doing with questions?

DANIELLE: We have so many good questions. She was asking if, who would be against ending marijuana prohibition in California?

ASHA BANDALE: Yeah, I mean, you know, there's been some opposition. It's, you know, it's interesting. There's already an existing marijuana market, as Piper pointed out, before. Some of it is underground, right, and there's been a lot of young people of color who've participated in that market, and some of it has been aboveground, and those have primarily been white farmers and growers, and so there's certainly been some pushback by those, not all, by no means am I saying all, but by some of those folks, because I think that there's -- this is the first bill that really allows for market diversification, and so, you know, here, nobody is automatically excluded because they have a prior conviction. Right? And so here you also have, not a requirement of vertical lintegration, so that you don't have to sort of go from seed to sale, and have millions of dollars to enter the business, you can get a license in any number of points, and so somebody who's, you know, has a relatively modest income can enter it.

So I think that that threatens the monopoly that currently seems to exist. It's the first non-oligarchy, really, that we've seen, unlike what we saw in Ohio a couple of years ago, right, that we all opposed. So I think, and I think there's been a whispering campaign, I can tell you for sure there was at least one website where every single thing on it was a lie, it was just a blatant lie, although it's anonymous, we didn't know who did it, but the interesting thing was that that was sent out to a number of progressive people of color, it was clear that's who they were targeting. This is how Prop 64 is bad for black people, so goodhearted smart rational reasonable people came to me and they said, you know, what is this? and is this true? And it was patently false. And I think that's because there is a market, under Prop 215, and people want to control it, and they've told patients a whole bunch of lies, right, because they look at, oh, you're only allowed to possess one ounce, you know, which you're not allowed to do or six plants of marijuana, which you're not allowed to do unless you're a patient.

Whatever you do as a patient is not going to be touched. This is in addition. It strengthens Prop 215, takes away none of the rights under Prop 215. So I don't know if you'd want to add to anything, Deb?

DEBORAH SMALL: I think the biggest opponents of this initiative are the major opponents of every reform, which is, law enforcement. Okeh? Because they stand to benefit from the way things are, so it's been the chiefs of police, the local DAs, you know, the people who have commercial and career investment in the drug war, who number one have opposed this, running out the same arguments that they came out against 215, and against Prop, you know, 19, I mean, any major offense, number one.

The second group are the drug warriors, which are beyond the law enforcement, people like SAM, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, who continually reinvent themselves every time there's a new drug reform initiative.

ASHA BANDALE: And lie. And they lie.

DEBORAH SMALL: Because they -- but, in their mind, they're not lying, they're spinning. But to me it doesn't matter whether they're lying or spinning, what matters is --

ASHA BANDALE: The Bill O'Reilly's -- Bill O'Reilly Spin.

DEBORAH SMALL: -- those people -- you know, Kevin Sabet and his crew, who have been engaged in this particular campaign on behalf of the drug warriors for as long as I've been involved in promoting drug policy reform. It's the same group of people. We see them every time there's an initiative, they come up with a new organization, they give themselves a new name. Now they call themselves Smart Approaches to Marijuana, and they set up a false contruct each time. Their new construct is that they are inbetween demonization and legalization, as if that was what the choice was. We've already demonized, because we've prohibited, and that's what they're trying to uphold. But they've come up with a new spin, so that's the second group.

And then the third group, which we cannot ignore, are the people I call the cultural Victorians. In the black community, I call them the black Victorians. But every community has their group of cultural conservatives who are wedded to the status quo, who believe that anything that is a challenge to their politics of respectability is going to bring down the community. And so those groups of people also oppose any kind of drug policy reform, because they see that as taking you towards the road of perdition.

DEAN BECKER: It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Nausea, photophobia, phonophobia, gastrointestinal events including bleeding ulceration and perforation of the stomach or intestines, thrombosis, myocardial infarction, stroke, cerebral hemorrhage, and death. Time's up! The answer from GlaxoSmithKline: Treximet, for migraine headaches.

I have a great deal of admiration for our guest today. He's a former board member for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, my band of brothers. He's a former prosecutor in the city of Chicago. And I think he's mad as hell about this drug war, just like me. I'd like to welcome Mister Jim Gierach. Hello, sir.

JIM GIERACH: Hi Dean, good to be with you and your listeners.

DEAN BECKER: Yes sir. Jim, you know, the city of Chicago's getting all kinds of glory here in the past few days, but the headline of the Chicago Sun-Times talks about no need for pride, exactly, for the city of Chicago. Let's tell them why, sir.

JIM GIERACH: We have had 633 people killed in Chicago in 2016, with a couple of months to go. We have had 2,100 people shot, have a war on drugs which is tearing apart the city of Chicago, our young people, gangs infesting the city, and no one really doing anything about it.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, Jim, I mean, they talk about the need for more police, but they don't talk about the root cause of this violence, do they?

JIM GIERACH: You know, the Chicago Sun-Times, which was the headline that you referred to, was actually an editorial, where they're talking about 17 killings over this past weekend. And bringing the total to 633 people killed. And, then in this editorial, what do they say to do about it? Well, they say, you know, we're going to hire a thousand more policemen, we need longer gun sentences, and we need better schools and jobs.

Well, what did they leave out? They left out the fact that drug policy and prohibition, just like Al Capone days, is what is causing 80 percent of the killings, according to the former superintendent of police in Chicago. I don't know how you can write -- I don't know how you can write two sentences, or even one sentence, to talk about how to stop the violence and the killing, and not discuss drug policy. Nothing about drug policy is mentioned in the Sun-Times editorial. The Chicago Tribune, which has historically, if you go back some 15 years, said we need another Wickersham Commission, like that which preceded the end of alcohol prohibition. They lately have said nothing about drug policy to stop the violence.

You can't have peace in the streets, you can't stop the killing, without changing American drug policy.

DEAN BECKER: So true, Jim, and I guess it's, you know, I, even on the national level, the presidential level, I've heard no mention of the drug war, they touched upon the words criminal justice reform, but no mention of this cause for this violence. Your thought there, sir.

JIM GIERACH: Well, it's the same thing, presidential year after presidential election, where the same problems are going on, and anything and everything else besides drug policy is okeh to discuss, to cure the violence. And, you know, we've had Hillary, who's now finally come around to the idea, well, okey, maybe marijuana's is not as bad as I thought it was, because here just a year ago she was saying, well, we should wait and see how these experiments in Washington and Colorado are going with the recreational legalization of marijuana. And even on medical marijuana, she was saying things like, well, there's a lot of unanswered questions. Well, she's improved on her position on marijuana here over the last year, because the public realizes that marijuana should be legal and a medicinal substance, and not illegal and feeding the gangs and the guns and the violence.

But, Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, you know, he says, well, yeah, I think marijuana should be legalized. But other drugs, well, oh no. And of course, Trump wants to build a wall to keep the drugs from pouring into this country. Well, these views are all so anachronistic, and unhelpful to the crisis that is facing the American people. So, I even sent a letter to all of the presidential candidates, I sent to probably, you know, let's see, 16 years ago. What is your position on the war on drugs? What is your position on prohibition, do you think prohibition causes crime?

And of course, I get no response from anybody because the presidential candidates don't want to talk about that, because they're fearful that the American people don't realize what they, I think they do realize, and that is that the war on drugs is the cause of the violence, the cause of inability to pay medical bills, because we have bullethole healthcare. Because we're building prisons to the point where we can't pay for schools. We can't use government limited revenues for economic development and stimulus and job programs, for education, for treatment of people who have become addicted to drugs.

And to me, it's the elephant in the room, that you can't sit down and talk about the problems in America and the world without saying there's an elephant in the middle of the room, and it's the war on drugs that we mistakenly started thinking that we were going to help other people, and instead have become the curse of the world. The curse of the people of the world. And, someone has to have the guts and the courage to stand up and tell the American people that.

DEAN BECKER: Exactly. You know, and, Jim, I mean, you're so right, the impact on the world, I mean, Mexico, a hundred thousand dead. Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, approaching another hundred thousand. We've got the Philippines, where they're butchering people in the street and putting a tag on them and saying they were a drug dealer and it's never investigated.

JIM GIERACH: With the president of the country saying that, don't worry about the civil rights and the human rights things, I'm for you. This is the president of the country, the new president, Duterte.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, and he reminds me a lot of Trump, and telling his supporters to drive the bullies out, if you hurt them, don't worry, I'll protect you for it.


DEAN BECKER: We have lost sight of common sense on this drug war for, well, for decades now. Common sense is starting to show its head again, but so few people are willing to recognize it. It's just insane, isn't it?

JIM GIERACH: It is insane, and the penalty and the price that we pay in so many different ways is just so big you can't add up the harms and the sad stories. They're just everywhere.

DEAN BECKER: Exactly right. Well, again, friends, we're speaking with Mister Jim Gierach, he's a retired board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. He's a retired prosecutor there in the city of Chicago. You know, Jim, it's the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let's talk a little bit about the good for a minute. Out on the west coast, and, well, several states on the, up in New England as well, they're going to vote to legalize marijuana. What do you think that will do to the violence, to the situation in those states, should they approve it?

JIM GIERACH: Well, I've heard it rumored that Mexico, because we've started legalizing marijuana in the states, that some of the marijuana is flowing the other way, into Mexico, and Mexico is thinking about building a wall to keep the drugs out. I read a story the other, just within the last week, that was saying that American marijuana is now infiltrating Mexico, and I couldn't help but think of the silliness of the Trump idea of building a wall to keep the drugs out, and Mexico's going to pay for it, so the United States should be able to pay for the wall to keep the drugs out of Mexico.

Mexico produces, according to the US Department of Justice, produces 21,000 metric tonnes of marijuana a year, you know, and when you seize umpteen bales, you know, a picture full of marijuana, you're, actually a train that made a couple of boxcars full of marijuana in Chicago was the big bust, I think it was about, I don't know, ten tonnes or so.


JIM GIERACH: It's nothing compared to what they produced. So, the good news is the American people are the ones who are -- have referendums in half the cases passing marijuana laws. I think that this election is going to see a tidal wave of marijuana, not just medical, but recreational marijuana, approved by the people who are going to the polls and having a chance to say so. And economically, it's certainly going to take a dent out of the cartels and the street gangs. The more we move towards legalization, the less money is going to be pouring into the bad guys' hands, and that's good news. It's a way for Americans right now to be throwing a stone at the war on drugs that's killing so many of our people.

DEAN BECKER: You know, we've been talking about the cartels and the gangs, but I like to use this phrase, that because of prohibition, terrorists who are brave enough to grow the flowers we forbid can make millions of dollars to buy weapons to kill our soldiers. It has no nexus with reality, does it, sir?

JIM GIERACH: It does not. You know, bin Laden, much of his money to fund his terrorist activities was from the drug business.


JIM GIERACH: There's nothing else you can do to make so much money, so disproportionately, taking so little capital and putting it into a business as there is this drug business, where the money just pours out, five thousand percent markup in price.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, sir. Well, I tell you what. What am I leaving out, what would you like to bring forward, Jim?

JIM GIERACH: Well, people need to realize that the war on drugs isn't just in the United States, it's the whole world that's suffering from the same world war on drugs. And I blame the United Nations and the United States that controls much of what the United Nations are, at least influences, much of what the United Nations does. And there are three drug prohibition treaties related to drugs that most of the nations of the world have signed on, and we need to amend those treaties, giving the individual nations of the world the power and authority to put in place, drug policies that may work in their individual country other than prohibition. And the United States, we need to do the same thing. Rather than a one size fits all national prohibition of all of these drugs listed in these treaties, we need to instead say to the states, we are going to empower you to put in place experimental legalization and regulation programs, in order to reduce not only the drug harm and the addiction, but the violence and the corruption, and the money flowing into your prison systems and nonproductive things.

That's really what needs to be done to affect people around the world who are suffering from the godawful war on drugs.

DEAN BECKER: All right. There you have it, from my good friend, Mister Jim Gierach, a retired Chicago prosecutor, and a man who despite all the horrors and bull this situation continues to wage his war to end this madness. I thank you, Mister Gierach.

Well, that's about it for today, I want to thank Piper Kerman, and Deborah Small, Asha Bandale, and of course, former Chicago prosecutor James Gierach. I hope your vote went well, or will do well, that we get some smart people in there to do something about this insane drug war. And as always, I remind you, because of prohibition, you do not know what's in that bag. Please be careful.