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Speaker Supports Alternatives to the War on Drugs

Speaker: War on Drugs is a Hoax


Untitled Document

Speaker: War on Drugs is a Hoax

Wed, 19 Feb 2003 - Savannah Morning News (GA)
Contact: letted@savannahnow.com - Website: www.savannahnow.com
Author: Jane Fishman

As a group, they had about as much in common as any assemblage of people waiting in line at the grocery store.

They included an attorney-turned-psychologist, a car painter and a Chatham County commissioner.

Instead of heading home from work on a damp and rainy Monday night, this disparate group turned into the lovely campus of Savannah State University, some for the first time, to hear a woman they never heard of speak about the government's failed war on drugs. Nora Callahan, whose brother is serving 27 years for conspiracy to sell drugs, is a crusader. She calls the federal government's war on drugs a hoax "and a war on ordinary people."

She offers surveys from judges who say they hate the drug laws, statistics about the overwhelming number of black men in prison, examples of "asset forfeiture," in which homes and properties are seized without due process, and states, like Michigan, that have started releasing first-offender, non-violent prisoners to save money and free up space in the prisons.

"Meanwhile," she said, "kids are imprisoned for an ounce of marijuana while the rest of us can't turn on television without hearing about the latest prescription drugs like Prozac or the way our pilots in Afghanistan are offered 'uppers' to stay alert. Do you want to tell me the difference?"

The drug panic started in 1985, she said, "when the cheapest thing to do was to up the penalties. Well, it's not working. We have just as many drugs on the street if not more. And we have people who won't call for an ambulance if someone is overdosing because they're afraid they'll be implicated and be held responsible."

Traveling around the country with her husband in an RV, this grassroots organizer, who formed the nonprofit group, The November Coalition (www.november.org), appears before Congress, publishes a monthly publication, "The Razor Wire" and tries to coalesce community groups.

Mark Beberman was among the first of the 35 people in the audience. He's a mental health counselor and program coordinator for the Chatham County Drug Court. Beberman started off as a defense attorney--mainly for the indigent--but when he kept seeing the same people in court, again and again, he switched gears and got a masters in psychology from Georgia Southern University.

"People who don't understand addiction see it as a weakness, not a disease," he said. "They regard people like me as being soft on crime when that's not the case at all."

The car painter, who didn't want to give his name, came from another perspective.

"The first week of my son's senior year, his school had a drug and weapons search and the drug dogs, who the principal said smelled a marijuana stem and a few seeds, went to his truck," he said.

"When they found a box cutter in his tool box they came to his classroom, threw him down on the ground, put him in handcuffs and hauled him off to jail.

"At first they told us he was at the youth detention center but when my wife, who had to leave work, got there we found out they decided to try him as an adult and he was at the Chatham County jail. He was 16. He tested clean for drugs and no one ever did show me the marijuana seeds they said were in the truck.

"The box cutter was there because when he gets out of school he comes and works at the car dealership where I work. He's a car porter. It's his job to cut open all the boxes that come in here, hub caps, floor mats, cup holders, and to assemble the cars. Then he cuts the boxes and puts them in the Dumpster to be recycled."

On the advice of a lawyer, he pleaded guilty and his son was put on probation, because "If he had been found guilty, which he was because he did have the box cutter, he could have been sent to prison for two years," his father said.

Frozen out of public school in Chatham County and three credits short of graduating, the boy passed the GED and is now a junior at Armstrong Atlantic State University. Probation costs his parents $110 a month, plus $2,500 in fines and attorney fees.

The last person to raise his hand and speak was Chatham County Commissioner Joe Murray Rivers.

"I'm here because I'm angry at zealous prosecutors and the warehousing of black youth," he said. "I have a son who is doing 10 years. I don't condone that he was doing drugs, but I don't think his sentence was just, either.

"When I visit him I see how many young people are being stuck away and not restored. Where he is in Jesup, he's lucky enough to be connected to Ogeechee Tech. So far, he's gotten his GED and taken courses in carpentry and electrical.

"I know plenty of people in prison and just as many who come out with no skills," he said. "That is not what we need."

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