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How the War on Drugs Thwarts Meaningful Police Reform

KIM BROWN, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown.

The Baltimore Police Department routinely violates the Constitutional rights of its citizens. This according to a bombshell report released by the Department of Justice late Tuesday. Their investigation revealed a culture of overly-aggressive policing, arresting citizens without probable cause, use of excessive force, a failure to properly investigate charges of brutality, and a lack of training when confronting the mentally ill, and the list goes on.

Right now we are joined by retired Major Neill Franklin. He is the executive director of the group LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Neill worked as a police officer for 34 years. He joins us today from Washington. Neill, thank you so much.

NEILL FRANKLIN: Thanks for having me.

BROWN: Neill, this 160-plus page report is damning, to say the least, but highly unsurprising to many of Baltimore’s residents. What were some of the things that jumped out at you?

FRANKLIN: Well, as a lifelong Baltimorean, policed there, went to school there, not surprised. Just like everyone else. But what we have now is the data to pair with the narrative. The things citizens have known for–black citizens–have known for a long time in Baltimore, now we have the data.

What jumped out at me, what was most glaring, was the report, the part of the report dealing with unconstitutional stops and searches. I think it was–and of those numbers, I think–so they looked at 2010 January, 2010, I think, to May of 2015, where there were 300,000–and I’m talking about pedestrian stops, not traffic. Pedestrian stops, people walking along the street. 3.7 percent, only 3.7 percent of those stops, resulted in any type of arrest or citation being issued. And that is quite poignant to me. So it clearly demonstrates that most of these people, by far, were being stopped without any, not just probable cause, but reasonable suspicion for the stop in the first place.

And you know, I’ve done a lot of work over the past decade or so dealing with drug policies in this country. And what that says to me is that we really need to change our drug policies. It’s about time. We really need to end the war on drugs. And I mean really end it. I mean regulate and control drugs, end the prohibition of drugs. And take the money out of it, because as long as these policies stay in place, we may have some small successes in reforming our police here in Baltimore. But at the end of the day, we’re still going to be stopping people, and we’re still going to be searching people, because we have to find the dope.

BROWN: You know, Neill, you raise an interesting point there when it comes to [referation] of drug laws. But a lot of what was in the report really has to do with how the police interact and engage with the public. And there were so many individual incidents outlined in the report, but a couple of them really jumped out at me.

This one incident of a woman who was stopped in East Baltimore for a broken headlight. She was strip-searched on a public street. And not at the risk of sounding too graphic to our audience, but people need to know what happened to her. She was pulled over, she was asked to exit her vehicle. She was ordered to take off her clothes on the street. She asked the male officer, do you mean take off all my clothes? And he said, yes. So a female officer was charged with searching her. She removed the woman’s shirt, she felt around her bra, then she ordered the woman to remove her underwear and submit to a search of her anal cavity. There was no weapons, no contraband found on the woman, and she was not cited or arrested. She got a repair order for her headlight, and she was let go.

So Neill, in your experience, when you’ve engaged with a citizen who has experienced this level of mistreatment or disrespect from the police, how are they likely to respond to the police the next time they encounter an officer? And what effect does this have on the level of public trust? If a woman is strip-searched for a broken headlight, you know, imagine someone who is actually carrying a weapon or drugs, or suspected of having both. What do you say to that?

FRANKLIN: Well, this type of activity and behavior by a police officer can lead to a number of things. When a person gets stopped once, and then again, and not just themselves but they hear stories from their family members and from their neighbors, you know, the next time they get stopped could lead to something else. It could lead to great resistance. It could lead to assaults against police.

And again, you know, yes, she was stopped pretextually, you know, with the stop of the broken headlight. Whether it’s a tail light, headlight, crossing over a solid line, the real reason for the stop is to search. It’s, you know, these officers–and there’s something that people need to understand. These officers are victims, too, in many cases, of a policy that has gone so far wrong, so far off the rails. And the administration of not just the Baltimore Police Department, but other police departments across this country, are giving orders to these police officers who go out here and make the arrest. They are gauging the success of their work by the numbers of arrests, the numbers of stops that they’re making. The number of searches that they’re making. And they’re putting these police officers in a very difficult situation.

I know some of the listeners are still going to say, don’t the police officers still have discretion? Look, everyone in their job wants to get promoted, they want better assignments, they want to advance. And if they don’t follow the marching orders of the hierarchy, of their administrators and of their bosses, you know what? You don’t get promoted. You don’t get the better assignments. In fact, you get worse assignments, and you get treated differently.

So it’s a very difficult place. I say the common enemy here for the police, as well as the citizens, obviously for the citizens, again, is the policy. You know, the things that we’re having the police do and requiring that they do.

BROWN: So Neill, there’s a couple more points I wanted to get to about this report. One huge thing that jumped out at me was the number of unconstitutional stops, searches. There seems to be no regard for the U.S. Constitution for African-American citizens of Baltimore City. I mean, the report names so many instances of illegal search and seizure. Also, police targeting citizens exercising their First Amendment right who are critical of the police, who may just be cursing at the police on the street. While that may be an act of disrespect, it’s not illegal. And you know, a citizen is within their rights to do that without having to worry about physical harm from the police.

But how is the Constitution being taught to cadets and in police academies? Are the police aware of what people’s Constitutional rights are? Or do they just not care?

FRANKLIN: They’re quite aware. You know, I’ll say this over and over again. You know, whether it’s the results of this investigation, and the response to it by the police department and by others, oh, we need improved training, we’ve got to teach better here, we’ve got to do better there, the training for all police in the state of Maryland is really, really good training. There are well over 500 objectives that the police officers have to prove proficiency at. Knowledge of an application of these policies. And they’re mainly centered around laws and the Constitution.

You know, criminal law–the Constitution is taught in the criminal law section within our police academies. Baltimore has had really good instructors in this area of criminal law. There was one time back in the early 2000s where we brought every police officer in that department back into the academy to give them a two-week course in criminal investigation, again, which a good part of it is Constitutional law, Fourth Amendment issues, and so on. When can you search, when can you not search, when do you need a search warrant?

The training is good. The failure here is in accountability at the first line supervisor’s level. That’s sergeants. The sergeants are the ones who are in charge of those squads of the men and women who are doing the work day-in and day-out on the streets. Now, if the sergeants are allowing police officers to go further than what they are legally allowed to do, allow them to do it one time? You know what? It’s that saying. You give them an inch, they’ll take a foot. At the end of the day they want numbers. They want good reviews. They want to be patted on the back for finding the drugs or anything else.

So they’ll go that little extra step, although illegal, in conducting that search without a search warrant. With conducting that strip search of that lady on the street, as well as you see–I mean, you can walk down the streets in Baltimore tonight and you’ll see young people being strip searched in the streets, even on the other side of this report.

So the training is good. Now you have to back up the training with accountability. And that’s done by sergeants and lieutenants. We’ve got to hold them accountable. And again, their hierarchy, their bosses, we have to ensure that they’re no longer using the metric of more arrests equals success. More citations equals success. More illegal stops equals success. We have to get rid of those, those metrics for measuring success.

BROWN: Absolutely. We’ve been speaking with Neill Franklin. He is the executive director of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Neill, if you could, hang around, because I wanted to segue the conversation into a similar and related topic, because news out of Washington today from the Drug Enforcement Agency, the DEA made the announcement that they do not intend to deschedule or declassify marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic. This despite lots of pressure from the cannabis community trying to rally and lobby the Obama administration in doing this before he departs the White House.

And to talk about that we’re joined with Adam Eidinger. Adam is the founder of the DCMJ Initiative, which was the initiative in 2014 to put legalized marijuana on the DC ballot, and that initiative did pass. He’s also the founder of Capitol Hemp. He joins us from Washington. Adam, thanks for being here.

ADAM EIDINGER: Thanks for having me on the show.

BROWN: Adam, your group has been lobbying very hard, lobbying the Obama administration, the Drug Enforcement Agency, to do this, to move marijuana off of the Schedule I classification where heroin is, where MDMA is, ecstasy and GHB. A lot harder drugs than marijuana, and yet it still sits in the Schedule I classification, and there it is going to remain. What did you think about this announcement when it came down today?

EIDINGER: You know, it’s a continuation of the Nixon drug war. You know, it’s been this same place since Richard Nixon, a Schedule I drug with no legitimate use, according to the scheduling by the DEA.

Yeah. I mean, at first I declared a win. And I still feel this way, that if you were to balance it out, we actually got something. And a win is no more monopoly. No more National Institute for Drug Abuse monopoly on where marijuana can be produced for medical research. I think we’re going to see an explosion of medical research as a result, and John Hudak at the Brookings Institute and others are applauding this announcement because of the flood of research that’s going to open up thanks to this.

But it doesn’t address the civil rights disaster that the war on marijuana users has been and continues to be for nearly half of the American population. And it’s time the federal government actually creates protections for medical patients in all 50 states. It’s time that it’s taken out of Schedule I. And that’s, we’ve been saying. Not so much–I guess you could say–we’re not lobbyists, you know, we’re activists. So we weren’t lobbying, we were more or less petitioning in and taking to the streets here in Washington, DC.

But I think we’re, we’re entering a new chapter, sort of the end of hope, and now we need to get down to business and really actually organize a much bigger movement than we’ve used in the past. I think ti’s time to organize our movement into a mass movement.

BROWN: And you raise an excellent point when you talk about the civil rights disaster that the drug policy in general has been. However, marijuana more specifically, you know, the infamous ACLU report of, I believe, 2012 says that African-Americans are arrested at rates of at least, at minimum, three times more that of whites despite reports of equal usage of marijuana from both black and white Americans. And many people are disappointed, especially in the Obama administration, for failure to take action to deschedule marijuana because there’s still the opportunities there for people to be arrested and have their lives ruined over copious amounts of marijuana. I mean, something that has been recognized for medicinal use in 25 states plus the District of Columbia.

And you know, everyone believed that President Obama was the liberal, the progressive, what have you, who would actually get this done, and it does not appear that he’s going to do that. So how does this shape things up for the November election? Especially for the cannabis community, Adam?

EIDINGER: You know, I think there was a lot more hope back in April when we were standing in front of the White House with the 51-foot inflatable joint that said, “Obama, deschedule cannabis now,” that he would actually go forward and do something before he left office. A lot of us are losing hope. And if they expect us to be out there rallying for Democrats come November, we need something else. Like, this isn’t going to do it.

Getting rid of the NIDA monopoly is just not enough. It’s saying that we have to have more medical research to keep it–we have to keep it in Schedule I in the meantime, when no one is overdosing, when there is–we had medical marijuana all over the place, we had state revenues that are increasing thanks to taxes on medical marijuana, and legalized marijuana for adults. It’s like, what country are you the president of, Mr. President? That’s what it feels like. You know, are we living in the same country?

Right above me, one floor up on a balcony on the back of this building there are six marijuana plants growing right now, legally, in the District of Columbia. About a mile from the White House. And everything that’s harvested there can be kept on the premises and used on the premises. And two ounces can be carried out the front door and shared and given away to anyone else in the District of Columbia. While we don’t have commercialization for adults, we don’t have incarceration anymore.

And it’s–the part that I think that’s really tone deaf by the Obama administration is that they’re not addressing the incarceration side of prohibition at the federal level. And they could be steering the whole country away from incarceration. Instead they’re supporting more mass incarceration to the tune of a half million or more people a year all across America getting arrested, to varying degrees of severity. But some people are very severe. You’re in jail for years. And other people are going to jail for–or not even going to jail. They’re getting a ticket in the airport, or they’re getting a ticket on the highway for $500. And it’s a shakedown by police.

So I think, you know, people who are really concerned about good policing should need to speak up right now. This is tone deaf to the problem. You could have killed two birds with one stone, here by having a rescheduling, or descheduling, which is what we’ve been saying. Is like, just take it off, entirely off the controlled substances list, and let the medical research determine where it goes. That’s what they should have done in the first place, when marijuana was scheduled. Instead it was, they ignored all medical research, and a political decision was made from the White House to treat it like it was kryptonite, and it was used to harass African-American communities explicitly, to arrest progressive white Jewish activists who were stoners. And you know, there are whole communities, political communities, that were decimated in the ’70s and ’80s thanks to the drug war.

So I think, you know, we’re ending that era for real, and it would have been nice if Obama was the president that could have ended that and taken credit for it, and be part of his legacy. It doesn’t look like it’s going to be. And it looks like we’ll be demonstrating instead of working for Democrats come this fall, because, you know, this issue is just too important. I care much more about the people going to jail for marijuana across this country than helping Hillary get elected.

You know, if she–and the last thing I want to say, and I do want to take a question from you if you want to say anything, but I do want to say that Hillary doesn’t have cannabis or marijuana in her vocabulary. And you know, if the president barely talks about it, but–yeah, they wouldn’t even talk about it. It’s like we don’t exist. And meanwhile, this is the number one reason people go to jail in this country, is marijuana. And you won’t talk about it.

BROWN: Neill, we’re running short on time, but I wanted to kick that question to you, as well, because you know, as we’re talking about the policing issue in Baltimore–and you know, Baltimore certainly does have a drug problem. But you know, nationwide, marijuana is being used to really ruin people’s lives in places where it is still illegal, because you know, in Maryland we have decriminalized up to 10 grams, Washington has legalized, you know, two ounces for recreational use. But a lot of places are still arresting people for seeds and stems, and literally ruining lives behind that. Is the failure to deschedule and decriminalize just a way to keep the mass incarceration revenue going? If you could answer that fairly briefly for us.

FRANKLIN: Yeah, first of all, you have to listen to what Adam said. We’re still arresting over 600,000 people in this nation every year, just for marijuana possession alone. No other charges. You have to understand that marijuana is the DEA’s–and policing across this country–it is law enforcement’s flagship product when it comes to arresting people, getting into their pockets, getting into searching their cars and their homes. It is literally a big piece of this scathing report from, even though we have decriminalization in Maryland, it’s still a big piece of this scathing report that was just done on the Baltimore Police Department by the Department of Justice. Responsible for a lot of those unconstitutional stops and searches. So decriminalization laws do not do it. Just look at New York and stop and frisk over the past few years, who’ve had decriminalization on the books since the 1990s.

So we’ve got to do what Adam said. The administration, the president can, by way of executive order, end this today. I thought he was the president of executive order, but I guess not. So Adam’s right. We need to make a big change here. The administration needs to get–either poop or get off the pot, I think that’s the saying. But yeah, this is a big problem, even though we’ve had a small success with research by our universities.

BROWN: Or the president can just revisit his youth, or go talk to his daughter Malia, who, you know, was photographed at the Lollapalooza show smoking a joint. So if it’s good enough for the first daughter.

FRANKLIN: [Inaud.] about his daughter being arrested for smoking marijuana, fortunately.

BROWN: Oh, no, he doesn’t have to worry about that. But if she was doing it in DC she wouldn’t have to worry anyway. But gentlemen, we’re going to have to leave the conversation there. We’ve been speaking with Neill Franklin. He’s the executive director of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Also, we have been joined with Adam Eidinger. He is the founder of DCMJ, also the founder of Capitol Hemp. If you are in Washington tonight on Thursday, you can join Adam near the White House. They are doing a protest, tone deaf karaoke, to voice their displeasure about the DEA’s failure to deschedule marijuana from a Schedule I drug.

Gentlemen, I appreciate you joining us on this important conversation.

FRANKLIN: Thanks for having us. Have a great day.

BROWN: I’m Kim Brown and you’ve been watching the Real News Network.

End

  

  

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