Untitled Document


Reformers Challenge Preachers: 'Protect People, Stop Drug War' - October 13, 2003, The Michigan Citizen

Untitled Document

Report from Detroit: October 20, 2003

by Amanda Brezel, November Coalition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and Michael Segesta & Debra Wright, Drug Policy Forum of Michigan


We connected many bridges and would appreciate any advice or ideas on how to strengthen these bridges in the future. We had an amazing line-up of speakers, both local and national. The many talented out of town guests we were able to bring in was a result of the Wayne State University budgeting bureaucracy, which allows generous funds for speaker honorariums and travel, publicity for campus, and $125 for finger foods and room fees. For a list of speakers (minus last minute changes) see www.dpfmi.org/speakers.htm.

Despite the low allowance for food, we still had a luncheon on Saturday thanks to Robert Field and Common Sense for Drug Policy. The luncheon was a huge success, as friendly representatives from the State and Federal legislative bodies spoke eloquently against the drug war. Glenn Ososki, a staffer from Representative John Conyers' office, gave the facts and statistics of the drug war,s failure and racist enforcement, in addition to his experience as a soldier in Colombia and the harm we are doing there. Another congressional aide from Conyers' office, Marion Brown, announced the formation of the Families of Incarcerated Persons Caucus with the goal of uniting the voices of incarcerated people, their families and loved ones.

Sergeant Lemmons from the Narcotics Division of the Detroit Police Department and Inspector Robert Moore spoke to the crowd of nearly 100 people and admitted we cannot arrest our way out of drug use, but seemed to argue that the "prevention" aspects of drug war expenditures are justifiable. We look forward to further dialogue with the department.

Of special note: Michigan State Senator Hansen Clarke (D-Detroit) announced that he is willing to sponsor a bill on medical marijuana for patient use. The bill is currently in "blueback" form, the immediate precursor to a bill in Michigan, and Senator Clarke challenged the reform movement to court both liberal and conservative co-sponsors in the state capital. Further, he said he is compelled to take action, especially when reform comes across as credible and compassionate, though he does not support recreational use of cannabis. Senator Clarke cited two people for inspiring him to sponsor a bill. The first was Kim Bowman, one of his aides who has a relative that went through chemotherapy and used marijuana for medicine.

The second was Tim Beck from the Detroit Coalition for Compassionate Care. Senator Clarke spoke of Tim's constant support, his help in building coalitions and community outreach, and financial contributions. Tim also proved that the drug law reform movement, especially medical marijuana, has strong public support to JoAnn Watson, who was successfully elected to the Detroit City Council in a defeat of the more favored Gill Hill. Tim made that support clear by hosting a well-attended fundraiser for Councilwoman Watson, who was a board member of DCCC during her campaign.

The Councilwoman also participated in our conference on the "Prisons: The New Plantations?" panel discussion along with Kemba Smith, Soros Fellow; Jedonna Young, FAMM; Nora Callahan (moderator) and Chuck Armsbury from the November Coalition. During the course of the conference, Councilwoman Watson took a strong interest in the compelling nature of Kemba Smith's case. The Councilwoman was also audibly and visibly appreciative of Chuck Armsbury's talk of his past involvement with the Patriot Party, the white spin-off of the Black Panther Party if you will, and the revolutionary struggle of the 60s.

There were participants and speakers from across the spectrum. The list of co-sponsors was diverse and fairly long, including Bishop Thomas Gumbleton the Archdiocese of Detroit, Sisters of St. Joseph, Peace Action Network, ACLU of Michigan and many more. We had panels addressing prison injustice, youth justice and empowerment, harm reduction and the role of religion in the renewed battle for civil rights. In addition there were 12 "break-out" sessions, including Reparations for the Drug War by Clifford Thornton and Marijuana Policy in the U.S. and Canada by Eugene Oscapella, Brian McAllister and Tim Beck. (For a full list of co-sponsors and "break-out" sessions see www.dpfmi.org/conf.htm.)

Rev. Ed Sanders from the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Tennessee moderated the religion panel discussion and set the tone with a powerful story on working together as a community despite differences on specifics. Rev. Sanders was joined on the panel by Minister Dawud Muhammad from the Nation of Islam, Muhammad Mosque #1; Ron Allen, a Buddhist seminarian; and Rev. Anthony Holt, a minister in the streets who is very active in the recovery community.

Rev. Holt is also on the Partnership for a Drug-Free Detroit Advocacy Committee. He and 12 other members of the Committee recently went to the Drug Policy Alliance's Breaking the Chains Conference in Racine, WI, where they came to a new understanding of harm reduction and the inhumane and racist nature of our drug laws. Several of them were already against the criminalization of addiction before the conference. They're not fully with us on how to reform the laws, but those who went are less hostile than before, which opens the door to bring them over (at least to neutrality) in small digestible steps. For anyone who doesn't believe a bridge can be built with prohibitionists, please stay open. Rev. Holt stayed on point with a powerful message and voice urging religious leaders to recognize the war on drugs is on people and to step-up their involvement in healing our communities (please see the Michigan Citizen article Mike sent out).

Deborah Peterson Small, DPA, was our keynote speaker, and was exceptional as usual. She read part of the Declaration of Independence and spoke of the need for us to make a declaration, to declare our intentions of ending the drug war. She also compared the drug law reform movement to others in the past: anti-prohibition, civil rights, reaching as far back as our independence from the King of England. In addition, Deborah was helpful with last minute changes to the breakout session format. Kevin Zeese was also inspirational, as he gave an update on the win in Tulia after we viewed the video, helped coordinate the breakout sessions that didn't break-out due to less than anticipated attendance, and closed the conference with direction, hope and the fact that we are winning. He said, "The fact that our opponents are stiffening their backs is a sure sign we are winning, and that's a good thing. The stiffer their backs get, the easier they are to break."

Also of note: Saundra Williams from the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO spoke on drug testing and how it relates to unions. She talked of their job placement program for ex-offenders on probation or parole and how those with drug convictions are the hardest to place. She urged the reform movement to work with the unions to reform the drug laws as they affect employment, especially drug testing.

If anyone has any advice or ideas on how to build on the connections made at our conference, please send them to the Co-Chairs of DPFMI, Deborah Wright, dswmsw@msn.com and Michael Segesta, msegesta@comcast.net, and the conference coordinator/SSDP Amanda Brazel, amarajane@yahoo.com.

For Freedom & Justice,
Amanda Brazel, November Coalition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Michael Segesta & Debra Wright: Co-chairs of DPFMI

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

The Internet Our Website

Questions or problems? Contact webmaster@november.org