Category: war on drugs

Challenging the New Jim Crow, part 1

By Alan Bean

This post is the introduction to a keynote address I delivered at a Campaign to End the Death Penalty conference held recently on the campus of the University of Chicago.  Subsequent posts can be found here:

Sheriff Larry Stewart (Tulia, Texas)
DA J. Reed Walters (Jena, Louisiana)
 DA Doug Evans (Winona, Mississippi)

Challenging the New Jim Crow  

I come bearing bad news.  Since the early 1980s, the fundamental structure of the American criminal justice system has changed.   It is less and less about preventing and punishing crime, and more and more about managing and controlling the surplus population.  Consider a few statistics:

  • The Texas prison population soared from 39,000 in 1988 to 151,000 in 1998—an increase of 387%.  Between 1980 and 2004, the prison population increased almost six-fold. 
  • Spending on corrections during this period increased by 1600 percent. 
  • Between 1980 and 2000, Texas spent seven times more on its prison system than on higher education.
  • In 1950 there was a 3% chance that an African American male born in Texas would do prison time; by 1996 there was a 29% chance. (more…)

Post-election rant exposes white liberal naivete

By Alan Bean

Tim Wise is taking heat for an anti-Tea Party, post-election screed that has been popping up on a host of Lefty websites. 

The basic idea is that, last Tuesday notwithstanding,  American conservatism has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.  Here’s the gist:

I know, you think you’ve taken “your country back” with this election — and of course you have always thought it was yours for the taking, cuz that’s what we white folks are bred to believe, that it’s ours, and how dare anyone else say otherwise — but you are wrong. (more…)

The Justice Department’s “No Pardon” policy

By Alan Bean

Thanks to Doug Berman for alerting me to this hard-hitting critique of the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney.  Samuel Morison’s comments originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times. 

Here’s the heart of his critique: “Having spent more than 10 years as a staff attorney in that office, I can say with some authority that the prevailing view within the Justice Department is that the pardon attorney’s sole institutional function is to defend the department’s prosecutorial prerogatives. There is little, if any, pretense of neutrality, much less liberality. On this parochial view, the institution of a genuinely humane clemency policy would be considered an insult to the good work of line prosecutors.”

A no-pardon Justice Department

President Obama should rely more on his own moral judgment than the Justice Department’s in making clemency and pardon decisions.

By Samuel T. Morison

November 6, 2010

The Times’ well-intentioned Oct. 30 editorial bemoaning that fact that President Obama hasn’t yet granted any pardons or commutations, in which the editorial board correctly notes that the president is “aided in such decisions by the Office of the Pardon Attorney in the Justice Department,” betrays a profound misunderstanding of the role the pardon office plays in the clemency advisory process. In particular, The Times writes, “Ideally, presidents would give great deference to the pardon attorney’s recommendations and take a liberal view of the clemency power, exercising it often and on the basis of clear standards.” (more…)

The folks who swing elections

By Alan Bean

According to this article in the Washington Post, Republican attempts to demonize House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have been unsuccessful . . . until this election year.

Let me say up front that I have no opinion of Ms. Pelosi one way or the other.  I find her nervous smile unconvincing, but I don’t blame her for smiling or for being nervous.  What interests me here is the power of oft-repeated talking points in hard financial times.  Ms. Pelosi’s job is primarily to negotiate behind the scenes while trying to rally Democrats behind the party line.  She isn’t responsible for shaping policy; she’s a cheerleader and a professional compromiser.  That’s her role.  So why have her “strongly disapprove” numbers risen from a modest 17% to a startling 41%. 

Two reasons: one, times are tough and voters are always inclined to blame the folks in power; two, Republicans and Tea Party activists have been telling us that Pelosi is a very bad person.  We aren’t told why she is bad; apparently it’s supposed to be self-evident.  That’s how the demonization game  works.  If you argue that Speaker Pelosi is a child of hell because she supports specific legislative initiatives, you shift attention from personality to policy.  Republicans realize that, when times are tough, you simply point the finger and scream, “this lady consorts with Satan!” (more…)

Brian McLaren’s “New Kind of Christianity”


Brian McLaren

By Alan Bean

Brian McLaren knows how it feels to grow up “born again”.  Raised within the legalistic and apocalyptic tenets of the Plymouth Brethren, McLaren grew up worshipping an omnipotent Christ who would soon return to wreak vengeance on the enemies of God.  Gradually, over a period of decades, McLaren’s theology fell apart.  Then, just as gradually, it was replaced by what he calls “a new kind of Christianity.”  In fact, that’s the title of his latest book. (more…)

Democrats and the Drug War

By Alan Bean

New York Times columnist Charles Blow asks why Democrats have shown such loyal support for a drug war that targets one of its core constituencies.  Here’s the salient quote:

“It is, in part, callous political calculus. It’s an easy and relatively cheap way for them to buy a tough-on-crime badge while simultaneously pleasing police unions. The fact that they are ruining the lives of hundreds of thousands of black and Hispanic men and, by extension, the communities they belong to barely seems to register.”

Exhibit A is the Obama administration’s staunch support for the Byrne Grant program.  The Tulia drug sting (which created Friends of Justice) was funded with Byrne money.  This partly explains why George Bush made drastic cuts to the program–it had embarrassed the Lone Star State.  Barack Obama knows that most Byrne funding is channelled into statistic-generating narcotics programs that (a) lock up disproportionate numbers of poor black men and (b) do absolutely nothing to address the harms associated with drug abuse. 

Tragically, support for the drug war has always been a cheap way for democrats to play the tough-on-crime card.  (more…)

Was Juan Williams sacrificed for our sins?

You have probably heard that Juan Williams has been sacked by National Public Radio.  I have mixed feelings. 

Like Bill Cosby, Juan Williams panders to white America (and a large portion of prosperous black America) by wailing on the black under-caste.  For instance, Williams recently penned a screed lamenting the sorry state of black America: “Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America–and What We Can Do About It”.

Williams is an authority on the civil rights movement and has been involved with some excellent work in this connection, most notably PBS’s “Eyes on the Prize” series.  But, like far too many civil rights aficionados, he is inordinately fond of comparing the courage, intelligence and resilience of the civil rights generation with the irresponsible, dependent and self-destructive tendencies on display in poor black neighborhoods.  (more…)

Legal nightmare ends for the Richardson family

Mark and Vergil Richardson

District Judge Robert Mohoney has dropped all criminal charges against Mark Richardson, Vergil Richardson, Jermichole Richardson and Xavier Richardson, bringing a three-year legal nightmare to an end. 

This ruling comes as no surprise.  Once Judge John McCraw Jr. forced the presiding judge, John Miller, to recuse himself, the outcome was virtually automatic.  Judge Mahoney was appointed to replace Miller and it didn’t take him long to make the only sensible call available to him.

The big surprise in this case is that charges were filed against these defendants in the first place.  No one has ever accused the Texas Attorney General’s office of being soft on drug crime, but when Nicole Habersang reviewed the facts she knew what she had to do.  That’s when things got really strange.   When Ms. habersang filed a motion requesting that charges against all but one defendant be dropped, Judge Miller refused to cooperate.  (more…)

Mark Osler: Four Hard Truths about the Drug War

The policies of the drug war failed, but ignoring the problem certainly won’t make it go away. Here are four steps we need to take:


October 11, 2010

Mark Osler

Though it is out of the spotlight in a bad economy, the United States still has a drug problem, and it may be getting worse. The use of methamphetamine, a particularly pernicious narcotic, is increasing again. Few things can harm a family or community like meth.

It shouldn’t be surprising that drug use is on the rise. The federal government, in particular, has turned its attention to something else: immigration. Just 14 years ago, about 40 percent of federal defendants who received a sentence were charged with drug crimes, while just 12 percent were up on immigration charges. For the 2009 fiscal year, 32 percent of federal defendants faced immigration charges, while only 30 percent were narcotics violators.

In highlighting this shift, I am not arguing that we go back to what we did at the height of the drug war. Those policies largely failed. If we choose to take drug interdiction seriously, we must try new approaches and take real-world facts into account, including four hard truths: (more…)