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    Declaring War on Heroin

    Truthout - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 10:15

    In a handout photo, 53 pounds of herion, seized from a New York-based drug organization by the Drug Enforcement Administration. More heroin has already been seized by authorities here in 2014 than in any year since 1991, part of a well-documented nationwide rise in heroin use that has seen New York once again become a conduit for suppliers. (Photo: DEA via The New York Times)

    Even as officials eschew "drug war" language, many states' actions in response to the heroin panic have taken the same old tack. Overwhelming, well-publicized evidence that mandatory minimums do not reduce crime has apparently been cast aside in the swirl of the heroin scare.

    In a handout photo, 53 pounds of herion, seized from a New York-based drug organization by the Drug Enforcement Administration. More heroin has already been seized by authorities here in 2014 than in any year since 1991, part of a well-documented nationwide rise in heroin use that has seen New York once again become a conduit for suppliers. (Photo: DEA via The New York Times)

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    An era has ended: The term "war on drugs" has become passé. Instead of trumpeting the "just say no" mantra of decades past, elected officials now rattle off the rhetoric - and sometimes even the policy recommendations - of decriminalization activists, using phrases like "public health issue" and "holistic approach." President Obama's 2014 Drug Control Strategy pointed to treatment and prevention as top priorities, downplaying the role of law enforcement and putting "war on drugs" in quotes. On the policy front, marijuana laws are loosening in many states, substantive sentencing reform bills are making their way through Congress, and the president may soon grant clemency to thousands of long-serving drug prisoners. At least 29 states are taking steps to roll back the harsh mandatory sentences that have lent fuel to the mass incarceration of millions of people of color and poor people over the past 30 years.

    These changes have not always translated into decreased arrests - in fact, marijuana arrests remain at historically high levels, with people of color (and particularly black people) shouldering an immensely disproportionate amount of the burden, despite similar rates of drug use among racial groups.

    Moreover, a glaring exception to the trend toward relaxing drug laws has surfaced in the last year: When it comes to heroin, policymakers have hit the drug war battlefield with renewed vigor. From the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman to reports of heroin use doubling in New York to a slew of headlines warning of increased opiate use among white suburban youth, news of a heroin "epidemic" has spread fast, and it has translated into a contagion of harsh drug policy.

    Even as officials eschew "drug war" language, many states' actions in response to the heroin panic have taken the same old tack. In Louisiana, where Gov. Bobby Jindal said last year that "substance abuse treatment instead of incarceration is a more effective treatment," the governor signed a bill that substantially increases the mandatory minimum prison term for distribution or "possession with intent to distribute" heroin. Overwhelming, well-publicized evidence that mandatory minimums do not reduce crime - and instead result in the brutal warehousing of large numbers of black and brown people, along with vast expenditures of state dollars - has apparently been cast aside in the swirl of the heroin scare. In Virginia, where the governor recently celebrated Recovery Month (September) by extolling the virtues of treatment and disclosure, heroin arrests have more than doubled over the past five years. And New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo has declared his own plans to "turn the tide on this [heroin] epidemic," signing into law a package of addiction treatment bills… and a slate of "strengthened" drug penalties.

    Why the panic - and why the kneejerk punitive reaction?

    The number of people who report using heroin has increased sharply over the past ten years, and in the wake of Hoffman's death last year, mass media have seized on that trend as an "epidemic." However, users have actually decreased in the past year, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Plus, as Columbia University's Dr. Carl Hart points out, most heroin users are not addicted to the substance, and the vast majority of overdose deaths occur when people combine heroin with other drugs, as in the case of Hoffman. Yet rather than expanding access to practical drug education (for example, informing people of the danger of combining heroin with other drugs), efforts - even those involving treatment - have been centered in the criminal legal system, following a longtime pattern in which "cracking down" on a health problem means involving police and targeting communities of color.

    The heroin battle cry echoes a very familiar logic: Instead of focusing on pragmatic steps to protect public health, it frames "cracking down" on drugs as a morality-based mission. In 1986, Nancy Reagan announced, in the lead-up to a proposal that would intensify drug policing, "There is no moral middle ground… For the sake of our children, I implore each of you to be unyielding and inflexible in your opposition to drugs." On a parallel note, an Illinois police chief recently declared, "If we allow any kind of possession of heroin to be a misdemeanor, shame on our society.'" The sponsor of the recently enacted Tennessee law that criminalizes mothers who've used illicit drugs during their pregnancy (so far, mostly targeting opiate users), called the law a "velvet hammer" and erroneously warned that the lives of babies born to addicted mothers are "totally destroyed," replicating the mantras used during the "crack baby" panic to justify the separation of many predominantly black mothers from their babies in the 1980s and '90s. (Longitudinal studies have since disproven assumptions about "crack babies"; fetal alcohol syndrome, it turns out, is far more serious.)

    Nowadays, many have abandoned the no-moral-middle-ground position when it comes to marijuana - now widely viewed as the "good drug" - but the rush for the "velvet hammer" is still embedded in our cultural backbone, ready for deployment when crisis seems to strike. The words "epidemic" and "scourge," once used for crack, have now easily resurfaced to apply to heroin, and so have the penalties to match.

    Responses to the heroin panic often also echo classic "tough on crime" refrains that have long driven the mass arrest and incarceration of people of color and the poor. For example, a Delaware police chief has initiated a plan modeled on New York's notoriously racist "broken windows" policing practices, in which people - usually black and Latino people - are arrested for tiny infractions like riding bicycles on the sidewalk or jumping subway turnstiles. (The tragic effects of the "broken windows" mentality can be witnessed in the killing of Eric Garner by Staten Island cops, on suspicion of selling loose cigarettes.) The Delaware police chief told the local newspaper that in order to combat increased heroin use, "What we're doing is broken windows on steroids." Police in Medina, Ohio, recently unveiled a "broken windows" campaign to crack down on offenses like loitering and littering, in an effort, they say, to curb heroin possession and sales.

    And so, although both facts and public opinion now firmly discourage the punitive approach (two out of three Americans oppose the prosecution of heroin possession, and a majority support a shift away from mandatory minimums), the past few months have demonstrated that when it comes to drug scares, our leaders have not moved beyond their reflexive reach for policing and prison.

    Meanwhile, despite the Obama administration's talk of emphasizing treatment and prevention, crucial public health measures continue to be neglected. A key example is the prohibition on financial support for needle exchange programs: Aside from a brief period between 2009 and 2011, these initiatives have been banned from receiving federal funding for the past 25 years. Needle exchange drastically reduces the incidence of HIV transmission among injection drug users, it's endorsed by the World Health Organization as a lifesaver for both users and their families, and it costs taxpayers many times less than HIV treatment. (Conversely, a recent study indicates that arresting HIV-positive drug users actually heightens risks of overdosing and spreading the disease.) Syringe exchange programs also save lives by training clients in confronting overdose situations, and by providing easier, more informed access to treatment. These steps are proven to reduce heroin-related harm - unlike upping mandatory sentences for distribution crimes, or arresting kids for bicycling on the sidewalk.

    The "war on drugs" metaphor may have been withdrawn from official circulation, but the prisoners are still being taken and the casualties are still mounting. We can't just start putting "drug war" in quotes and absolve ourselves of responsibility for the carnage. We need to peel back years of social conditioning that have instilled an impulse to run for the criminal legal system whenever the drug alarm strikes. And we must also challenge that alarmism itself - a phenomenon that has stoked decades of racist policy, sent millions to prison and torn apart millions of families.

    If we are truly committed to ending the drug war, we must not let our intoxication with "epidemics" - and our entrenched drug war morality myths - trump our responsibility to humanity.

    Warning: Fracking May Harm Public Health

    Truthout - Thu, 12/18/2014 - 10:04

    What do public health advocates like me tell people all the time? Get tested. Use protection.

    In practice, that means we’re always explaining how everything from cancer screenings to immunizations to bike helmets can save lives.

    The same logic ought to apply to natural gas drilling. Take what’s happening in Maryland, my state.

    Until now, Maryland has banned the controversial gas-drilling process commonly known as “fracking.” That’s kept a portion of the Marcellus Shale formation — a gas-rich stretch of bedrock that stretches from New York State to Tennessee — off-limits to frackers.

    Maryland was the only state to complete a public health study of the impacts of fracking before drilling. The participants found fracking to have a high or moderate likelihood of negative impacts in seven out of eight core areas — including air quality, water quality, occupational health, and earthquakes, among other things.

    Before Election Day, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, had supported a moratorium on fracking in the state. After Republican Larry Hogan — who has publicly stated his support for drilling — pulled a surprise win in Maryland’s gubernatorial race, however, O’Malley switched gears.

    The Frack Oil Salesman, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

    A few weeks ago, O’Malley announced that he’s going to greenlight fracking before he steps down — as long as he’s satisfied that new regulations will mitigate risks to public health and the environment.

    He claims that this approach maximizes chances that regulations might have some teeth. And based on how things are going in states like North Dakota and Pennsylvania, strict regulations for Maryland are a must.

    Testing for baseline conditions before drilling begins, and ensuring adequate protections for people living nearby, must be central. Regulators should apply to fracking the same basic public health guidelines that they use for everything else: Get tested. Use protection.

    Get tested: Maryland should collect and publicly report baseline air and water quality data before fracking begins.

    Federal rules are so weak that the industry faces no national obligation to reveal which chemicals it uses in the fracking process. Yet many of the chemicals widely believed to be used, such formaldehyde and benzene, are known carcinogens that don’t belong in our air and water.

    Unlike other states, which have allowed companies to keep this information secret, Maryland must require frackers to disclose this information if it’s to have a shot at monitoring water contamination, air pollution, and related health threats.

    Use Protection: Frackers should locate well pads at least 1 kilometer (about 3,200 feet) from drinking water wells, residences, and schools. Right now, Maryland agencies are recommending only a 1,000-foot setback from schools.

    Living, studying, or working within 1 kilometer of a fracking well pad increases the likelihood of water contamination and raises the risk of neural tube defects, congenital heart defects, low birth weight, and other health risks.

    Maryland must also adopt stringent regulations to shield workers from silica dust, another known carcinogen.

    And what about water contamination from leaking gas wells? Recent studies from Pennsylvania found an almost 8 percent failure rate for well casings, even after the state put regulations in place.

    If all this sounds too hard for Maryland to accomplish without making its gas industry uncompetitive, that’s because it’s not clear that there is such a thing as “safe fracking.”

    Instead of opening the door to fracking in their state, Maryland’s leaders should instead invest in an energy future rooted in renewable options. Generating wind and solar power will never endanger the health of the surrounding community the way that fracking for natural gas or oil will.

    Maryland should follow New York State’s lead by keeping its moratorium in place until it can inform the public about exposure risks and take the steps required to protect people from fracking pollution. Otherwise, there’s no way for us all to get tested and use protection.

    Violence against women: We must end this scourge

    2014-12-11 - http://mereja.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=89925In Ethiopia, as in many other countries, violence against women is ingrained in the social fabric. Civil society, governments, and citizens must work together to raise awareness and eradicate sexism and rape culture.

    Women are saying: Enough!

    2014-12-11 - http://www.pambazuka.orgThe United Nations says one in three women will be beaten, coerced into sex or abused by a partner in her lifetime. Women are increasing resisting.

    The global scourge of police killing Blacks

    2014-12-11 - http://www.stlamerican.com/gallery/wiley_price_photojournalism/collection_5010eb7a-2182-11e4-b4af-001a4bcf887a.htmlThe issue of Black people being victims of systemic brutality, oppression and murder at the hands of the police is not limited to the United States. It is a global problem. If we are ever going to stop this barbaric use of authority to trample the civil and human rights of Black people we must open our eyes to what it happening on an international scale.

    Who polices the police in America?

    2014-12-11 - http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/2014/12/06/who_polices_the_police_in_americaWhen the police are perceived by citizens of colour as the police, jury and executioner, it is time to pull off the Constitution and demand accountability. A peace officer can never bring peace by a trigger-happy use of the implements of war.

    Namibia: Contradictions of the 2014 elections

    2014-12-11 - http://www.dw.de/swapo-heads-for-victory-in-namibian-elections/a-18091417The increasing popularity of SWAPO as reflected in the 2014 general elections results does not make sense, especially in a situation of ever-worsening socio-economic conditions and massive corruption. What it does show, however, is that liberal democratic balloting is not some neutral event but a reflection of power relations that serve as a camouflage for social inequality.

    Surviving scarcities in Bulengo

    Women’s trial in displaced camps in North Kivu, D.R.Congo 2014-12-11 - http://www.raisnezaboneza.noAs DR Congo continues to be rattled by one of the worst and longest humanitarian crises of the century, the thousands of Internally Displaced Persons seem to slowly slide into the forgotten portion of international consciousness. A visit to IDPs camps in North Kivu reminds of the very real plight they continue to be in.

    Defier of the undefiable: The political thought of Robert Sobukwe

    2014-12-11 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyWM_TSLxycIn December, progressive peoples across the pan-African world remember the birth of Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe. Dearly loved by his people and fiercely hated by his enemies, Sobukwe remains a tower of inspiration for Africa’s total emancipation from the forces of foreign domination.

    Bunge la Mwananchi (The People’s Parliament) Pt. II

    Reflections on social movement struggles in Kenya during the era of neoliberal globalization 2014-12-11 - http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/taxonomy/term/2089Bunge la Mwananchi has revolutionized grassroots politics in Kenya since the 1990s. In this second part of reflections on the movement, the writer examines Bunge’s challenges and its future. Part I of this article appeared last week.

    If we’re having a real conversation about race, let’s make sure it’s the right one

    2014-12-11 America is gripped by a deep racial anxiety stoked by strategic political manipulation and fear of rapidly changing demographics. The current system dehumanizes the racial Other. It must be changed.

    Betrayal of hope: From ‘Yes we can!’ to ‘I can’t breathe!’

    2014-12-11 President Bill Clinton once said, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” If that is so, America needs to gather all the good it has to end civil disregard and disrespect for blacks.

    Rule-of-law 365: A Kenya tale

    2014-12-11 The Government of Kenya is proposing major changes to several laws to facilitate its war against terrorism in the wake of deadly attacks. Kenyans should be worried that some of the changes may entail abridgment of their rights and freedoms guaranteed in the constitution.

    Disclosure of funding for political campaigns

    2014-12-11 Political parties must disclose to the nation and to their members the nature and extent of support they receive from external sources to carry out their campaigns. Such support could lead to state capture.

    Kenya frustrated ICC prosecutor by non-cooperation

    2014-12-11 Statement of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, on the status of the Government of Kenya’s cooperation with the Prosecution's investigations in the Kenyatta case

    Statement on behalf of the victims following the withdrawal of the charges against Uhuru Kenyatta

    2014-12-11 Today’s withdrawal of the charges against Uhuru Kenyatta will inevitably disappoint the estimated 20,000 victims of the crimes charged in this case.

    KPTJ statement following the ICC Prosecutor’s notice of withdrawal of charges against Uhuru Kenyatta

    2014-12-11 The circumstances under which the charges against Kenyatta have been withdrawn – based on alleged witness intimidation and lack of cooperation by the Government of Kenya – rather than vindicating him, have left many questions hanging over his role in post-election violence.

    Kenyatta’s ICC case: Kenya should account for impeding access to justice and truth

    2014-12-11 ICC judges decide not to adjourn the case further; decline to refer Kenya to the ICC’s governing body despite criticising the lack of cooperation from Kenya

    Withdrawal of Kenyatta charges signals need for overhaul of ICC investigations

    2014-12-11 The Prosecution’s complaints about non-cooperation by the Kenyan authorities is true, but the lack of evidence points more to a failure of the previous investigative strategy of the Office of the Prosecutor. The evidence is out there, the question is why the OTP did not have it before charges were proffered.

    Palestine Embassy in Tanzania condemns assassination of Ziad Abu Ein

    2014-12-11 The Embassy of the State of Palestine in Tanzania condemns in the strongest terms the Israel’s extrajudicial killing of Palestinian Minister and Head of the Committee against the Wall and Settlements, Mr. Ziad Abu Ein.
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