Democracy Now!

Drug War

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  • We are joined by two leading voices in the fight against mass incarceration: Michelle Alexander, author of the best-selling book "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," and Susan Burton, founder and executive director of A New Way of Life, a nonprofit that provides housing and other support to formerly incarcerated women. Burton is the author of the new memoir, "Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women," in which she describes her journey from a childhood filled with abuse to drug addiction as an adult, and then to the fight to address the underlying issues that send women to prison. Alexander writes in the book’s introduction, "There once lived a woman with deep brown skin and black hair who freed people from bondage and ushered them to safety. She welcomed them to safe homes and offered food, shelter, and help reuniting with family and loved ones. She met them wherever they could be found and organized countless others to provide support and aid in various forms so they would not be recaptured and sent back to captivity. … Some people know this woman by the name Harriet Tubman. I know her as Susan."

    See Burton and Alexander speak in New York City Friday night at 7pm. More details here

  • Civil rights advocate and best-selling author Michelle Alexander responds to the new push by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to escalate the war on drugs by rescinding two Obama-era memos that encouraged prosecutors to avoid seeking inordinately harsh sentences for low-level drug offenses. He has also instructed Justice Department prosecutors to pursue "the most serious" charges for all drug offenses.

  • In an escalation of the war on drugs, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinded two Obama-era memos that encouraged prosecutors to avoid seeking inordinately harsh sentences for low-level drug offenses. He also instructed Justice Department prosecutors to pursue "the most serious" charges for all drug offenses. Former Attorney General Eric Holder condemned the move, saying, "The policy announced today is not tough on crime. It is dumb on crime." Under the Obama administration guidelines, the number of drug offenders given mandatory minimum sentences plummeted, contributing to a 14 percent decline in the total federal prison population. We speak to Carl Hart, chair of the Department of Psychology and a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, and former anti-drug-war activist Anthony Papa, who was sentenced to two 15-years-to-life sentences for a single, nonviolent drug offense.

  • President Trump recently invited Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to visit the White House, despite criticism from human rights groups over Duterte’s so-called war on drugs, during which thousands of people have been extrajudicially killed by police and vigilantes. Our guest, neuroscientist Carl Hart, recently attended a drug conference in Manila. He had to leave the Philippines after his life was threatened.

  • In 2013, Steven Odiase was convicted for the shooting death of 15-year-old Juan Perez in the Bronx. At the time, the only evidence against the 31-year-old Odiase were the words of a lone eyewitness, who admitted to being intoxicated at the time of the murder. Odiase was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Then, Odiase’s younger sister, Kalimah Truesdale, set out to prove her brother’s innocence. She scoured the scene of the crime and eventually found a woman who said that she saw the shooting. Most shockingly, the woman said she had already spoken to a detective at the time of the murder and described the shooter as a man not matching Odiase’s description. However, there was no mention of the woman’s testimony in the version of the police report that was presented to Steven Odiase’s defense attorney. For more on the mystery of this altered police report, we speak with Jonathan Edelstein, one of the lawyers who represented Steven Odiase, and with Jennifer Gonnerman, a staff writer for The New Yorker. Her most recent piece is titled "A Woman’s Quest to Prove Her Brother’s Innocence Leads to a Discovery."

  • In what may be the single largest dismissal of wrongful convictions in U.S. history, Massachusetts prosecutors announced Tuesday they would throw out 21,587 criminal drug cases. The cases were all prosecuted based on evidence or testimony supplied by a former state chemist who admitted to faking tests and identifying evidence as illegal narcotics without even testing it. The chemist, Annie Dookhan, pleaded guilty in 2013 to tampering with evidence during her nine years working at a state crime lab in Boston. During that time, thousands of people were convicted based on her false statements. For more, we speak with Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, and Mallory Hanora of the group Families for Justice as Healing.

  • Among the tens of thousands of people whose lives have been affected by the massive evidence testing scandal in Massachusetts, where chemist Annie Dookhan has admitted to falsely claiming evidence was illegal narcotics before even testing it, was Timothy Taylor. He was arrested in 2009 and went on to serve five years in prison on drug trafficking charges. Annie Dookhan handled the evidence in his case. For more, we speak with Timothy Taylor.

  • A viral Facebook video posted by the Lake County Sheriff’s Department in Florida shows Sheriff Peyton Grinnell, surrounded by four masked men wearing sheriff’s department uniforms and Kevlar vests, warning people who deal drugs: "To the dealers that are pushing this poison, I have a message for you: We’re coming for you." For more, we speak with Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

  • A new report on the devastating harm of policies that criminalize the personal use and possession of drugs finds that in 2015 police booked more people for small-time marijuana charges than for murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault combined. The report also showed African-American adults are more than two-and-a-half times as likely as white adults to be arrested for drug possession despite comparable rates of drug usage. This comes as four states have legalized recreational marijuana use and five more will vote to do the same next month. Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union released the findings Wednesday with a call for states and the federal government to decriminalize low-level drug offenses. We speak with Tess Borden, author of the report "Every 25 Seconds: The Human Toll of Criminalizing Drug Use in the United States."

  • A wave of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines has claimed thousands of lives since Rodrigo Duterte became president in June. Duterte vowed during his campaign to crack down on drug users just like he did as the longtime mayor of the city of Davao, where his strongman tactics prompted Human Rights Watch to call him the "death squad mayor." His promises to end crime during his presidential campaign earned him a new nickname: "Filipino Trump." A former hit man testified Wednesday that while Duterte was mayor, he personally ordered him to carry out assassinations. This comes after President Obama canceled a meeting with Duterte during his trip to Laos after he called him a "son of a whore" and warned him not to ask about his so-called drug war. We speak with Ninotchka Rosca, a Filipina activist, feminist and author of “State of War,” a novel set in the Philippines during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

  • We are broadcasting live from Denver, Colorado, where in 2012 the state voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Now 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for either medical or recreational use, and the cannabis industry is one of the fastest growing in the United States. But some have questioned who stands to cash in on the billions being generated by cannabis sales. Michelle Alexander, the best-selling author of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," addressed the issue in a conversation with the Drug Policy Alliance, saying, "Here are white men poised to run big marijuana businesses, dreaming of cashing in big—big money, big businesses selling weed—after 40 years of impoverished black kids getting prison time for selling weed, and their families and futures destroyed. Now, white men are planning to get rich doing precisely the same thing." We speak now to Wanda James, CEO of the Denver-based cannabis dispensary Simply Pure. She is the first African-American woman in Colorado to own a cannabis dispensary. She was inspired to start a dispensary by the experiences of her brother, who at 17 was locked up on a petty drug charge—and forced to pick cotton in Texas for four years to earn his freedom.

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