The Real Baltimore: The Drug War
Nearly 5 decades after Richard Nixon launched the War on Drugs, The Real Baltimore examines it’s impact with retired police Major Neill Franklin, educator and activist Diamonte Brown, Public Defender Todd Oppenheim and Councilman Kris Burnett
The following transcript has not been proofread. The proofread version will be published as soon as it becomes available.
KIM BROWN: Hello, and welcome to The Real Baltimore, presented by The Real News Network. I’m your host, Kim Brown. The war on drugs is a phrase in policy coined by President Richard Nixon in 1971; and by all accounts, this is a war America has already lost. The opioid epidemic has mushroomed nation-wide. Marijuana for recreational and medicinal use is available in over half the country. But this is a war that has definitely clamed victims in the forms of overdose deaths, homicides, and those serving mandatory minimum prison terms for non-violent offences. Just what impact has this had on Baltimore City?
In a moment we’ll be joined by a panel of experts, but first our reporter Jaisal Noor examines this question.
JAISAL NOOR: June 17, 1971, President Richard Nixon declares drug abuse public enemy number one.
RICHARD NIXON: America’s public enemy number one in the United States is drug abuse. In order to fight and defeat this enemy, it is necessary to wage a new all-out offensive.
JAISAL NOOR: Decades later former Nixon advisor, John Erlickman(?) told Harper’s Magazine, “This declaration was an excuse to criminalize Nixon’s main enemies — the anti-war left and black people.” Four and a half decades later, the impact is not in dispute. United States locks up more people than any other country; some 2.3 million people are behind bars. Half a million of those are for drug offences; disproportionately low income and people of color. One in eight black men spends time in jail during their lifetime. Decades of mass incarceration has left generations with criminal records and unable to get stable employment or housing; only further exacerbating the cycle. Mass incarceration is also big business. Billions are spent every year carrying out the drug war and locking up offenders, which is why critics say police and prison guard unions continue to be the war’s biggest advocates. Baltimore was particularly hard hit by the drug war. Hundreds of thousands locked up and with criminal records.
BOBBY MARVIN: They transform communities; they transform lives; they transform families.
JAISAL NOOR: Neill Franklin spent 34 years in law enforcement. He was already beginning to question the drug war when a close friend and fellow officer, was killed in an undercover drug deal. Now, he’s a leading proponent of ending prohibition and demanding police be held accountable for their actions. He testified for the prosecution of the six officers charged with killing Freddy Grey(?).
NEILL FRANKLIN: Here the police are given a task to do that’s an impossible task in enforcing these drug laws, where nothing gets better; nothing improves, whether it’s the violence generated from the drug trade; whether it’s the corruption that comes from it; whether it’s the purity of drugs and the adulterated drugs that are on our streets — the amount of drugs that are on our streets; the fact that kids are recruited into it — nothing improves from the war on drugs. And at the end of the day, our police officers because of what they’re forced to do, are treating everyone the same. You know, everyone has become a warrior in this war on drugs, whether it’s the police and the community; or the boys on the corner fighting each other; and everyone becomes your enemy.
JAISAL NOOR: Drug arrests are down dramatically since 2014, when Maryland decriminalized marijuana and since the police began deprioritizing arresting drug users.
BOBBY MARVIN: Let’s be honest we can’t ignore the fact… we can’t ignore the damage that was already done. You can’t implement this type of brutality, the war on a community; the war on black folks; and then say, “Well, you know, we’re going to change directions a little bit and we’re going to go after violent offenders. And we’re going to dismiss or ignore the havoc we have caused thus far.”
JAISAL NOOR: The public defender, Todd Oppenheim, who represents felony cases, says the cycle of incarceration continues.
TODD OPPENHEIM: You know, with a lot of the felony cases the general perception is that dealers and gangs and people who are involved in violence have to still be prosecuted under these serious drug laws. But I’m a public defender and what I can say is that the net is often cast way too wide; and a lot of the people who are arrested for the more serious offences aren’t necessarily the intended targets. You see older people; you see young people who are maybe involved in the game, just because they have no alternatives; people that are really falsely charged.
JAISAL NOOR: For The Real News, this is Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
KIM BROWN: The Police Departments, State’s Attorney’s Office and Fraternal Order of Police were invited to join this panel, but all declined. The Real News’ Jaisal Noor did sit down with Police Commissioner, Kevin Davis and asked him how Baltimore has changed enforcing drug laws under his tenure? And this is what he had to say.
KEVIN DAVIS: Well, it’s evolved across our country. So, America, you know, we have 18,000 police departments and I think we all realize; I know I certainly do — that the crimes that we should be focusing on that occur in our communities are the crimes that we’re focusing on here in Baltimore — the homicides, the non-fatal shootings, the robberies, the burglaries, the auto thefts, the crimes that really impact victims and impact communities. So, it’s been my objective since I’ve been the Police Commissioner here, now almost two years, to focus our limited resources on going after those types of criminals who commit those types of crimes that harm our communities.
KIM BROWN: So, now I’d like to welcome in our panel. We’re joined today by Diamonté Brown. She is a Baltimore native. She’s also a community activists and educator, who was directly impacted by the war on drugs. She now devotes her free time to advocate for the reform of policies that negatively impact black communities, especially, counter-productive drug policies.
Retired Major, Neill Franklin is also joining us. He’s a 34-year law enforcement veteran of the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Departments. He’s now the Executive Director of Law Enforcement Action Partnership, also known as LEAP.
Todd Oppenheim is here. He is an Assistant Public Defender for Baltimore City with 13 years of experience.
And Councilman Kris Burnett is serving his first term in the Baltimore City Council, representing District 8 on Baltimore’s West side.
So, Diamonté I’d like to start with you because you have had direct experience with dealing with the war on drugs and being arrested for marijuana possession. Can you tell us what happened and how it impacted you going forward?
DIAMONTÉ BROWN: Sure. Well, unfortunately in 2008 I was arrested for marijuana possession. It was under about two grams of marijuana; and five years later I was severely impacted by the collateral consequences of a drug arrest, which included: me for the first time having to apply for food stamps; BGE assistance. So, I wasn’t able to take care of myself, although I was a well-educated able-bodied adult which I thought pretty much took me into a spiral of depression. Because when you can’t take care of yourself, and you’ve gone to school to be able to take care of yourself, the last thing you want to do is to be digging in a pot for people that’s reserved for people that can’t do those things. In addition to that, it barred me from being in the school system, which I’m now in, but at that time, I could not get into the school system, even though I had a master’s degree in secondary education. And on top of that, not only could I not get into the school system — I couldn’t get any job that was sufficient enough to pay my bills. So, I ended up working at BJ’s overnight for about $9.00 an hour which was not enough to pay my mortgage; so then I had to rely on friends and family. So, this didn’t only impact me but it also impacted my friends and family members. In addition to that I paid my attorney $1,000. I had to do 12 weeks of rehab, which a lot of attorneys like to tell you it’s drug education, but in Baltimore City we have rehab. And little do people know ever4y week I had to pay $60 to go to those classes. So, it was a financial burden; it was an emotional burden; and it was very embarrassing and although I didn’t understand at the time, I broke the law, and that people should be held accountable for when they break the law; I believe that the consequences that I experienced far exceeded the punishment that I deserved.
KIM BROWN: Did you say you were arrested for two grams of marijuana?
DIAMONTÉ BROWN: Yes.
KIM BROWN: And were you charged with a misdemeanor or a felony?
DIAMONTÉ BROWN: I was charged with a misdemeanor and I forgot to tell you that I also was put on three years’ probation, one year supervised.
KIM BROWN: And now in the State of Maryland you would simply be cited for having that exact same amount. You wouldn’t even necessarily be arrested for it.
DIAMONTÉ BROWN: Exactly.
KIM BROWN: That’s incredible. Well, Neill Franklin, I wanted to come to you because through this year, we’re talking about the war on drugs, there have been 108 homicides to close out the month of April for 2017; and we haven’t seen this rate of homicides in Baltimore city at this point in the year since 1993, when Baltimore City actually had 100,000 fewer residents. So, what is driving the record homicide rate right now in Baltimore, in your opinion?
NEILL FRANKLIN: Well, when we look at homicides not just in Baltimore but around the country, let’s go back even further because we’re not very good students of history. Let’s go back to the 1920’s of alcohol prohibition; you see that’s the other time in our nation’s history when homicides have been extremely high. In that 13-year period we experienced an influx in homicides that we thought we’d never see again in history. Until we started the war on drugs, going into the 1970’s; and then when we hit the 1980’s and into the 1990’s, here we go again — with an extremely high homicide rate. It’s what you get when you have policies of prohibition, okay — alcohol prohibition in the ’20s, drug prohibition of the day; and when you have so much money to be made by selling something that’s virtually worthless — I mean, we’re talking about plant matter, whether you’re talking marijuana, cocaine, opium, heroin — but because of the policies of prohibition, in many cases it’s now worth more than gold by weight. So, yes people are going to try to corner the market; whether it’s the cartels; whether it’s our neighborhood gangs and crews; and in doing so, they’re going to end up fighting one another. And when we, the police, come in and clear out a place of real estate, a corner or two, that valuable real estate is going to be fought over by these crews and gangs to establish, you know, to take control of that territory to sell their drugs. And in doing so, they shoot each other; and then you have retaliation that’s going to occur — back and forth for the next few months, year or whatever. That’s the foundation for the violence we’re seeing in Baltimore, Chicago, major cities across this country; and it’s about time that we learned… take a lesson out of, you know, from a page of history, and learn that we have to end these policies of prohibition. And treat it — this issue of drug abuse — as a health issue. That’s what it is.
KIM BROWN: So, on the other side to that, Neill, I mean the prohibition is obviously part of it; but is Baltimore City Police de-prioritizing low-level drug offences? Is this possibly hindering or hampering their crime-fighting efforts?
NEILL FRANKLIN: Well, you know, I like what I heard from Commissioner Kevin Davis, you know, about focusing on the people who are committing the violence. Because let me tell you something — it is possible to have an underground drug trade; it is possible that is not as violent, you know, and if we send a message at least in the City that, “Hey, if you’re out there committing acts of violence; if you’re using guns, we’re coming after you. We’re going to focus what limited resources we have on you.” Now, if you’re conducting your business and you’re not shooting one another, then maybe we’re not going to look at you so hard. But for those that are carrying the guns and shooting each other and causing the chaos in our neighborhoods, yeah, we’re coming after you. You know, under these policies of prohibition, it’s really the best that you can do because we can’t afford a cop on every corner. It’s just not practical, so you’ve got to change the policies. Unfortunately, our Commissioner, Kevin Davis is not in a position to do that. We collectively as citizens need to force our elected officials to change those policies.
KIM BROWN: Well, we actually did speak with Police Commissioner, Kevin Davis and this was his response.
KEVIN DAVIS: Well, I mean, you’re aware that the State of Maryland decriminalized the possession of marijuana under ten grams. And it’s been my experience, in my 25 years doing this job, that someone in possession of less than ten grams of marijuana more than likely possesses that for personal use. It’s also been my experience that arresting people who are addicted to drugs and in Baltimore, the drug of choice is heroin. We’re in the midst of an opioid crisis. So, are we going to spend our valuable time and resources and limited assets arresting people who are addicted to drugs? I think we’ve been there, done that. And I would much rather spend my time going after people who rob; people who steal; people who carry guns; people who take lives of our neighbors. So, I understand the critics and you’re kind of in a catch-22 situation when they, you know, people from opposing sides of an argument present their views and I understand both viewpoints. But I think we can still gather valuable information and not engage in this type of low-level drug arrests. And just last year as an example, the tips of the Baltimore Police Department were received for homicides went up 116%. So, I would argue that we are receiving that information from the community and I would much rather get information from the community in a consensual relationship, built on trust than a relationship that always involves the use of a set of handcuffs to cajole or persuade information out of folks.
KIM BROWN: Neill, can we get your response to the Commissioner’s comments?
NEILL FRANKLIN: Here’s what the Commissioner is saying — DOJ investigation uncovered over 300,000 stops, when we’re looking at the paid work, over 300,000 stops, within that little four-year period. And of those 300,000-plus stops, only 3.7% of those stops resulted in an arrest or a citation being issued, where the police officer had probable cause. So, now you’ve got 96.3% of those stops that are really, really questionable as it relates to the Constitution. But it was more than that, because the Department of Justice said, “You know, that number is really seven times greater,” because they went and started listening to radio transmissions and so on. Seven times greater — we’re now talking about 2.1 million stops, but the number of tickets and arrests remains the same. Now, you’re looking at .5% of 2.1 million stops, where there was a ticket of an arrest being made — over 99% of these questionable stops — that’s what he’s talking about. When you’re stopping people where everyone looks like a criminal and you’re treating everyone like a criminal, you don’t get the information you need regarding the people who are committing the acts of violence. What he’s talking about is improving police-community relations, no longer harassing people who aren’t out there shooting and causing the violence in our communities. He’s going to have success because of it.
KIM BROWN: Hmm. Councilman Burnett, you represent District 8 in West Baltimore. How has the war on drugs impacted that part of the City?
KRIS BURNETT: So, it’s had a huge impact, when you talk about the level of violence that many of my neighborhoods face on a daily basis. Unemployment rate is relatively high, especially for young black males under the age of 25. It’s somewhere well over 60%; and those are folks that are actually looking for work. So, it’s a big deal, and it’s also just kind of striking this balance because I get calls from my constituents around, you know, there’s a group of black men standing on the corner on Edmonson and Allandale. That’s like the number one thing I get in the last few weeks and you know, when the weather’s nice. And part of it, it’s a balance as a policy-maker because, or you know, as a person that’s just tasked with representing the needs of my constituents because on one end, you know, is loitering really a problem if you’re doing it at the Inner Harbor, right? You know, people stand around all the time; they stand in front of stores all the time and that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re selling drugs. … It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re selling drugs or doing anything illicit. But at the same time, you know, I also deal with an older woman, 90-year-old, doesn’t feel safe coming out of her house after sunset because there’s a group of males standing on the corner. And so, it’s that balance of, how do I make sure that we’re protecting the rights of the men in our city or the young people in our city, who are often just hanging out? Some may be selling drugs. But also the needs of the community as well, who you know are home owners who feel invested and some feel trapped in their homes. And it was something I experienced a lot on the campaign trail, even knocking on doors, where folks felt uncomfortable opening their door as a young black male standing on their door, asking for a vote, or asking for their support. And so, it’s a challenge when we talk about how do we turn around those neighborhoods like mine in Edmonson Village, where we do have challenges that are I would say are directly connected to mass incarceration and larger policies of over-policing and now we’re dealing with the results of a large swath of people who are unemployable, like, you know Diamonté mentioned earlier, inability to find work or to support yourself. And so, what’s the answer? You know, I can’t tell the District Commander to arrest everybody for just simply standing outside. But at the other end, how do we connect these people to resources?
KIM BROWN: Indeed and we did speak with Kevin Davis about the impact of the Consent Decree recently signed between the Department of Justice and the Baltimore Police Department, and let’s get your response to this Councilman.
KEVIN DAVIS: Well, I can only speak for what I’ve done since I’ve been Police Commission since 2015; and that Department of Justice Report goes back to 2010 and we fully cooperated with that Department of Justice patterns or practice investigation. I’m an advocate of the Consent Decree; I think it’s going to be something that makes our Police Department better both with the crime fight and the community. I lived through a Consent Decree experience right here in Maryland, in Prince George’s County. So, I’ve got an experience with an organization that had a troubled history and we became better thanks to the Consent Decree. So, again the work the police officers do in communities has to be consistent with the values of our community. And I think it’s just important in the midst of a surge in violent crime that’s taken place not only here in Baltimore but in other American cities, to focus on the violent repeat offenders; to focus on the guys who are carrying guns on the street.
KIM BROWN: So, the Police Department has stopped making large arrests of low-level drug offences. We just heard from the Commissioner. So, they’re now going after violent repeat offenders. I actually want to switch this question to you, Todd, because you work on this hands-on. As a Public Defender that represents felony cases, what do you have to say to what the Commissioner just said?
TODD OPPENHEIM: The war on drugs is a huge mechanism and it’s getting better and the DOJ report kind of pointed out the atrocities that have been going on with policing. But it’s such a huge mechanism that’s slowing that down. There are so many parts to it that depend on it from the jail industry, to police officers, to the prosecutors to me. I mean, my job is largely in part because of the war on drugs. About half of my cases are drug cases. So, we see things getting better with petty drug arrests and misdemeanors, especially in terms of bail. Those people are now on the street as they await court, presumed innocent rather than sitting in jail, being forced to take pleas, or you know lose their lives while they wait trial. But felony cases are still being handled in this mass kind of war approach.
KIM BROWN: The Justice Reinvestment Act that Governor Hogan signed into law that was sort of designed to usher in some sweeping changes to drug sentencing guidelines, including eliminating the disparity between crack cocaine and powder. In your practice and what you’ve observed in your cases, has this helped any on that aspect of it; or at least from cocaine perspective?
TODD OPPENHEIM: Those are Federal issues and I only work in the state system. So, they may from what I’ve heard and I do have clients that also have Federal cases, so it has made a difference in the Federal system. The Reinvestment Act is now really kicking in, especially in October. It’s kind of what Diamonté was saying with those petty convictions, even for marijuana there was a point when those were non-expungable. That means permanent on your record. So, starting in October for the first time ever, you’ll be able to get those expunged and that’s not just for marijuana, because of course that’s legal and that’s a thing that we should all do. But it’s also for other forms of CDS, controlled dangerous substances like cocaine and heroin. So, those are going to be huge. And it’s also going to keep us pretty busy because we need to get in touch with people in the community that are out there affected in their searches for employment; for loans and for housing, that could really benefit from having that stuff wiped from their record.
KIM BROWN: Well, we actually had to say goodbye to Councilman Burnett; he had to depart us. But we’re still here with our panel: Todd, Neill, and Diamonté. So, guys Todd just raised an excellent point. He said that he has a job because of the war on drugs and this is a discussion that we hear in communities of color all the time — that the war on drugs that the criminal justice system is designed to not only economically disempower and disenfranchise communities of color, specifically black people, but to also keep them in the system. Get them in the system early and often and basically have a negative trajectory for their rest of their lives. I mean, is there some basis to this in your opinion? You’ve been in the system as a result.
DIAMONTÉ BROWN: Oh yeah.
KIM BROWN: Tell… talk to us about how this has impacted you in this way.
DIAMONTÉ BROWN: Oh yeah, it’s definitely validity to what they’re saying and on top of that, I want to add the level of professionalism. I don’t have any statistics on it, but a lot of times most marijuana users were professionals, working professionals, people that have money that can pay for things like drug education classes every week, like I had to pay. The other people that I was in rehab with, the people that were addicted to crack, cocaine, people that had very serious drug problems; they did not have to pay for their treatment. I don’t know how they paid for it, but they didn’t have to pay for it. I had to pay for it out of my pocket. And yes, I did have health insurance. That did not pay for it. And so, clearly we’re not looking at this as a public health problem like Neill was saying. It’s a way to generate revenue, like getting me to pay for my own rehab. It’s ridiculous.
KIM BROWN: And we’ve seen that expressed in the way that the opioid epidemic is being treated now, because if we’re from Baltimore, heroin is not new to Baltimore. Opioid addition is not new to Baltimore. But for a very long time it was criminalized. You were caught with heroin, you go to jail. Now, that the demographics of the heroin user, abuser has changed, there’s a lot more empathy and emphasis on treatment as opposed to criminalization and mandatory minimums. Are you seeing this in your work Todd?
TODD OPPENHEIM: Absolutely. The opioid epidemic has entered the lexicon because the crisis has entered white suburban communities.
KIM BROWN: Uh huh.
TODD OPPENHEIMN: It’s been going on my entire career and my career is relatively new in terms of Baltimore’s history. I mean it’s been going on for decades in urban areas where hard drugs have it populations the hardest. And there are all sorts of reasons why you can get into as to why they were introduced into those areas first, but it’s become… it’s on the radar now as something that should be less inclined to be in terms of the criminal justice system, because these other populations are being affected, not just black people.
KIM BROWN: Hmm. So, is the war on drugs a war on black people, Neill Franklin?
NEILL FRANKLIN: It’s always been a war on black people. Just ask John Herald from the Nixon Administration. But let me just say something, it’s really not that simple. See, drug use and hard-core drug use has always been quite, how can I say, popular in affluent America.
KIM BROWN: Uh huh.
NEILL FRANKLIN: Cocaine, heroin, all of it; the difference now is that people are dying because of the influx in purity levels, the introduction of fentanyl into the program. And now that we have people dying, it’s a different story. People have been dying in the hood all the time, but now that you have people dying in gated America, affluent America, now it’s a health issue. You know, there’s been a change in the pharmaceutical industry; it’s DEAs putting pressure on doctors to pull people off of opiate medications and then they end up going to the street. And of course, when you go to the illicit market, you have no idea what you’re getting, right? So, you don’t know whether it’s laced with fentanyl or not and before you know it you’re taking too much, or you’re mixing it with another drug and you have a bad reaction, and you end up dying. So, that’s what we’re experiencing. Now it’s a health issue. Now we’re trying to move it in that direction. But I’m starting to see something else which is really, really ugly. And up until this point, you know, I haven’t been able to find anything to really come down hard on Commissioner Davis about and I’m always looking, and people know that. I’m always looking. But I heard that we may be using members of our Homicide Unit here in Baltimore City to go after people who may have been involved in distributing fentanyl-laced products, in heroin.
KIM BROWN: That was reported in the Baltimore Sun, yes.
NEILL FRANKLIN: You know, and what we’re seeing in other counties around this state and in other states is that they’re going after people and be charging them with homicide and manslaughter, if they’re involved in distributing that to someone else. Most of the people, who sell drugs or distribute drugs, are addicted themselves, okay, and they’re selling to manage their own addiction so that they’re not committing burglaries, and not committing robberies and violent crimes. And now, instead of giving them the treatment and putting them in the place of health where they should be, we’re going to be continuing along with this failed criminal justice model. It’s a really bad place to go. It’s an emotional response. It’s not well thought out. We’re not looking at data and we’re not looking at what other countries are doing and having great success at. Unfortunately, this is the United States and we can’t follow other countries.
KIM BROWN: Well, I wanted to ask you all is Maryland’s opioid problem really Baltimore’s opioid problem? Because the focus seems to be that Baltimore is the epicenter; Baltimore is where I assume the heroin is coming in through the port; I don’t really know how the heroin gets to Baltimore, but it doesn’t seem to have a problem finding its way onto city streets and it has been that way for quite some time. But we see a lot more white opioid addicts on the streets of the city now that may not have been there 10 or 20 years ago. So, the default assumption is the counties are sort of farming their addicts onto Baltimore City and Baltimore is in fact bearing the brunt of the state’s opioid crisis. What are your thoughts about that, Todd?
TODD OPPENHEIM: I think the other counties are still experiencing their own level of prosecuting these serious offences. Now I think it’s just been traditionally a place for suburban addicts to come because the supply is here.
DIAMONTÉ BROWN: Uh huh.
TODD OPPENHEIM: And it’s always interesting to see that type of case being prosecuted in the city because you see a reaction from the system that it’s almost like… and I’m kind of torn as a defense attorney, because I don’t like the war on drugs; I don’t like the way it’s perpetrated upon people. But at the same time, I don’t like the rural perception of the city as this cesspool or whatever. And so the justice system, sometimes you get the wrong Judge; they’ll come down hard on somebody for coming in here and talking advantage of the city. And then I’m kind of torn because I’m a city resident and I see the disproportionate impact of the war on drugs on our people. But at the same time, I also, I don’t want people coming in who are the same people who are calling into question who we are and how we live here.
KIM BROWN: I want to give you all opportunity to have a parting shot. Diamonté, what would you like to say to close out the show?
DIAMONTÉ BROWN: Well, I just want to say that, like you said very gracefully earlier, the war on drugs is really to me a war on black people. It’s been over decades been a way to incarcerate black people by the masses. It looks different but it becomes the same result. And it’s a very difficult issue to tackle because unfortunately, the power we need, the directly impacted don’t have the power that they need to make the effective change. And right now the powers that be are not the ones that are directly impacted by what’s going on. Therefore, the solutions are not immediate and the solutions are not the best solutions for what’s going on.
KIM BROWN: Neill Franklin?
NEILL FRANKLIN: Let’s take a page out of history and learn from that. We’ve experienced the same things from back then — the drive-by shootings, the running gun battles, the corruption. Bad booze was flowing through the streets back then. Now we’ve got bad drugs flowing through the streets today. At every turn, conditions have gotten worse under these problems of prohibition. Everything that we’re seeing happening from homicides to corruption to the overdose deaths, it’s all occurring under these problems of and policies of prohibition. That’s what we need to change if we’re really concerned about our young people in the city, understand this — it has been our criminal justice system that has been more detrimental to our families, mainly in the black community than any other policy centered around or surrounding the war on drugs. These numbers, I’ll leave you with these — one in 57, according to the NAACP, that’s the number of white children that have a parent or parents under the control of the criminal justice system. For our black kids that number is one in nine; one in nine. We’re not going to be able to successfully raise our young black children until we balance that out.
KIM BROWN: Todd?
TODD OPPENHEIM: Well, I want to build on what both of them said and say that the panel is proportioned correctly. I’m the minority on the panel and I should be because the crisis isn’t as severe on white people as it is on black people and I see that in my job every day. But it’s such a huge mechanism — the war on drugs — it’s so multi-layered from policing; to legislating; to the way Judges operate; to the way cases are prosecuted; to the way defense attorneys have built an industry on defending people in it; that every part of it has to be addressed. I mean, we can legalize, but then are we going to follow up with effective means of treatment and invest properly in that and follow up with investing in different communities? Are we going to stop, you know, ruling certain ways in the court for Judges to effect the way policing is so that there’s not the zero tolerance approach to people on the street. It all has to come together; it’s all this war.
KIM BROWN: Todd Oppenheim, Neill Franklin, Diamonté Brown, we have been speaking about the war on drugs and its impact here on Baltimore City. We’d also like to thank Councilman Burnett for his appearance here on our panel.
Stay tuned because in part two of our discussion we will be discussing solutions and what’s it going to take to address all of the ills surrounded by the war on drugs. On behalf of The Real News Network, I’m Kim Brown hosting here on The Real Baltimore.