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News :: Human Rights : Race : Social Welfare
Boston to Hold Public Hearing Investigating the War on Drugs
by Julia Steinberger
Email: julias (at no-spam) alum.mit.edu
13 Nov 2004
Boston City Councillor Chuck Turner is calling for a public hearing this Monday to investigate the War on Drugs. The purpose of the November 15th hearing is to gather data on the resources devoted to the war on drugs by different city, state, and federal agencies...
The high cost of the drug war, both monetary and human, is the primary motivation for the public hearing.
President Nixon declared the current global War on Drugs and created the Drug Enforcement Agency in 1973. The law enforcement budget has since inflated from less than 100 million dollars to tens of billions of dollars per year. In parallel, the number of incarcerated people has quadrupled in the United States, going from 500,000 to over 2 million people. Almost a quarter of state and federal inmates are in prison for drug-related offenses, and minority populations are heavily overrepresented among them. According to a 2003 Justice Department report, a black male in the United States has a 1 in 3 chance of going to prison during his lifetime.
However, according to Councillor Turner, despite law enforcement and incarceration measures, the supply of drugs seems unrelenting. Chuck Turner wants to use the public hearing on Monday to find out whether the current war on drugs has failed, like its infamous predecessor, Prohibition. (Starting in 1920, alcohol was prohibited in the United States. Prohibition was a massive failure in limiting access to alcohol, and moreover was a boon to organized criminal organizations, which took over the distribution of alcoholic beverages. Prohibition was finally repealed in 1933.)
Councillor Turner's goal is to develop a responsible drug policy, using the data gathered in the public hearing. He believes that a responsible drug policy approaches drug use as a medical rather than a criminal issue. He hopes to get an assessment from the law enforcement agencies on the cost and effectiveness of the current drug war. Many law enforcement leaders are growing disillusioned with the methods and results of the drug war, as the founding of the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) in 2002 attests.
Ultimately, Councillor Turner hopes to gather support for a home rule petition for the city of Boston, allowing it to spend part of the monies from drug seizures on recovery centers for addicts. "I think we should move towards a policy of legalization," he said, "as we look at money spent on law enforcement and incarceration, people will move in that direction."
However, Chuck Turner is not optimistic about the possibility of promoting change through a state-wide popular vote. Indeed, a ballot initiative calling for a fund from drug seizure money to be used for drug treatment, and for the possibility of treatment alternatives to prison sentences, was defeated in 2000 in Massachusetts. This defeat was partly due to the opposition by a large segment of the law enforcement community to the initiative.
Councillor Turner believes that popular pressure can be used to persuade the Boston delegation of the Massachusetts Congress to advocate for an alternative drug policy in Boston.
The public hearing will also address the issue of drug-related violence, especially in minority neighborhoods. The prohibition against drugs artificially inflates their price. The struggle over the large profits from drug sales results in violence, primarily gang violence in minority neighborhoods. This is analogous to the rise in organized crime during alcohol prohibition. "The increase in gang violence goes hand in hand with the development of the war on drugs," said Councillor Turner, "and the beefing up and militarization of the police has grown hand in hand with gang violence since drugs became illegal."
The equipment, training, and tactics of the Boston Police Department have come under scrutiny due to the recent death of a young woman resulting from the use of "non-lethal" weapons. Victoria Snelgrove, a 21-year-old journalism student at Emerson college, was hit in the eye by a projectile fired by the police during the celebration following the Boston Red Sox qualification for the baseball World Series on October 20th. The Boston police has taken "full responsibility" for her death, and an investigation is under way.
Many police officers are uncomfortable with the militarization of their work. The War on Drugs framework encourages armed confrontation, which more and more law enforcement leaders see as detrimental to their profession. Indeed, part of the mission statement of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) is to "restore the public's respect for law enforcement that has been diminished by our involvement in enforcing drug prohibition."
Monday's public hearing to investigate the war on drugs may help citizens as well as law enforcement and other agencies to better understand the consequences of the war on drugs in Boston, and hopefully motivate them to pursue alternative policies.
The time, location and text of the hearing follow:
WHAT: Public Hearing to Investigate the War on Drugs.
WHEN: Monday, Nov 15 2004, 5:00 pm
WHERE: City Council Chambers, Boston City Hall
THE WAR ON DRUGS - HEARING ORDER #04-1248
Whereas, during the last thirty years, trillions of dollars have been
distributed to federal police agencies, state police, and local police
throughout the country including Boston and its metropolitan region to stop the
flow of non prescription drugs; and
Whereas, incarceration for the sale, possession, and distribution of these
drugs has been a major factor in the increase in the number of people in jail
from 500,000 in 1973 to over 2 million today; and
Whereas, despite the trillions of dollars spent and the ever increasing number
of people being incarcerated for crimes involving nonprescription drugs, the
flow of these drugs seem to continue unabated into cities and towns throughout
the country, including Boston; and
Whereas, the continued flow of non prescription drugs and arrest of their
retailers seems to indicate that despite the trillions of dollars spent, our
federal, state, and local police are unable to arrest the major national and
international suppliers and the financial institutions that launder their
Whereas, it appears that drugs are distributed in the white communities of
Boston by organized crime while those same organizations supply it individuals
in communities of color to create distribution units called gangs;
Whereas, the drugs and guns being brought into Boston's communities of color and
method of drug distribution has been and continues to be the major source of
the violence among youth in communities of color; and
Whereas, statistics indicate that there are 1 million men and women of African
descent and hundreds of thousands of men and women of Latino descent in jails
throughout the United States, the vast majority for drug related crimes; and
Whereas, billions of dollars continue to be invested in the failing effort to
stop the flow of drugs while national and state funding is critically needed
for education, youth services, programs, and workers; health services including
drug rehabilitation, job training; and public works programs, to name only a
few critical areas of need; Therefore be it
Ordered, that the appropriate committee of the Boston City Council hold a
public hearing and invite representatives of from the offices of:
the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency;
the Federal Bureau of Investigation;
the Alcohol Tobacco, and Firearms Administration;
the Massachusetts Secretary of Public Safety;
the Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services;
the Massachusetts State Police;
the Massachusetts Commissioner of Prisons;
the Massachusetts Department of Public Health;
the Massachusetts Attorney General;
the Suffolk County District Attorney;
the Suffolk County Sheriff, and
the Commissioner of the Boston Police Department
to address the following questions:
1) How much money has been spent nationally on the "War on Drugs"
since 1973; and in the last ten years?
2) How much money has been spent in Massachusetts on the "War on
Drugs" since 1973; and during the last ten years?
3) How many people are in Massachusetts jails on drug related
crimes today; in Suffolk County jails today? Describe the demographic
percentages by race, age gender, etc.?
4) What is the cost to the state and Suffolk County of those who
are incarcerated for drug related crimes?
5) How much money is being spent on drug rehabilitation by the
state in this year's budget?
6) Is it a fair assessment to say that drugs continue to flow into
the country, state, and City of Boston despite the efforts to stop the flow?
7) Is it time to admit that the "War on Drugs" has failed and that
it is time to develop a new and more effective approach to the use of
drugs in this country?
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