August 18, 2000
LOS ANGELES, Aug. 15 Just eight blocks away from the Democratic National Convention, Rep. Maxine Waters called for the resignation of Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey. Rep. Waters (D Los Angeles) is the former head of the Congressional Black Caucus and one of the country's most powerful African American leaders.
Waters was followed by Rep. Charlie Rangel (D New York), who like Jesse Jackson was once a strong supporter of stiffer penalties for drug use. Rangel voiced concerns about the drug war in a way that was, according to program organizers, much more public and dramatic than were his past statements. Rangel is the ranking Democrat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
Rangel said he spoke with the President before Rangel went to Cuba and asked, "What happens if I ask them about their political prisoners and they ask me about ours?" Rangel said many non-violent prisoners are political prisoners because drug laws disproportionately impact poor people and minorities.
The bipartisan group of elected officials who called for major overhaul of drug laws, including Rep. John Conyers (D Detroit), Rep. Tom Campbell (R Los Angeles), California State Senator Tom Hayden (D Los Angeles), and New Mexico Republican Governor Gary Johnson. In addition, Jesse Jackson, Ethan Nadelman, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins spoke.
John Conyers ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, echoed Waters and Rangel. Conyers said, "I would call on Gen. McCaffrey to resign, but then they'd appoint someone just as bad who I would have to ask to resign too."
Rep. Tom Campbell (R San Jose) launched into a blistering attack on the $1.3 billion military aid package the U.S. will spend spraying herbicides and fighting rebels in Colombia.
"The problem is that if politicians question this war on drugs," Campbell said, "they risk being called soft on drugs. I'm not scared to have any label put on me because America's greatness lies in individual responsibility and freedom not in blaming other countries for our problems."
Governor Johnson denounced America's war on drugs for putting more people in prison than any other country except Russia. The Republican Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson and the Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City Rocky Anderson cited the lack of political courage as the reason for the continuation of the drug war.
"The Republican and Democratic Parties will not address the absolute insanity of our approach to fighting drug abuse and addiction. It is up to the American people to insist on a course that is honest, effective and just," Anderson said. "It is up to us because the politicians do not have the courage or integrity to lead as we intended them to lead."
The Mayor said Salt Lake County drug overdoses are the number one cause of death among men 25 to 40 reason enough, according to Anderson, to question the efficacy of "just say no" educational programs like DARE. The Mayor made headlines earlier this year when he replaced DARE, which the research has shown to be ineffective, with after-school and summer curricular opportunities for youth.
Gov. Johnson of New Mexico said he does not use drugs or alcohol but that he wants them to stay legal. "I want to make a pitch to you to not drink alcohol," the Governor said. I want to tell you to stop drinking but do I think it should be criminal to drink alcohol? No. It should be illegal to drink and drive. It should be illegal to be drunk and cause harm to someone else. But drug prohibition like alcohol prohibition, and it is tearing this country apart."
Ethan Nadelmann, the Executive Director of the Lindesmith Center, which organized the drug policy sessions, said: "Reforming our drug laws has emerged as a powerful new movement for political and social justice in the U.S. Political leaders are gaining the courage to speak out for drug laws based on common sense, science, public health and human rights."
On a lighter note comedian Al Franken played his famous "Saturday Night Live" Stuart Smalley who in turn pretended to be an L.A. police officer. "I'm a police officer, I have a hard job, and sometimes I make mistakes. But that's okay, because I'm good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it, some people like me."