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  August 6, 2015

As City Violence Spikes Nationwide, Major Police Chiefs Defend Drug War

TRNN's Jaisal Noor questions the head of Major Cities Chiefs Association about why the group is defending failed policies of the drug war and gets reactions from drug war critics Police Chief Larry Kirk and professor Lawrence Brown
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Jaisal Noor is a producer for The Real News Network. His stories have appeared on Democracy Now!, Free Speech Radio News and other independent news outlets. Jaisal was raised in the Baltimore-area, and has a degree in history from the University of Maryland, College Park.


JAISAL NOOR, PRODUCER, TRNN: We're here on Capitol Hill, where police chiefs have gathered to find solutions to the rising crime and homicides happening around the country.

CHIEF J. THOMAS MANGER, PRESIDENT, MAJOR CITIES CHIEFS ASSOCIATION: On average, homicides have increased nearly 20 percent this year. In 62 percent of the cities we had increases in non-fatal shootings, as well. Almost half report an increase in gang-related activity and retaliatory violence.

NOOR: To combat spiking crime rates, the chiefs proposed harsher sentences for repeat offenders, tougher gun enforcement and federal intervention in the local level. And to focus on new synthetic drugs, like synthetic marijuana or K2. So I questioned the head of the Police Chiefs Association about why there was no mention of the failed policies of the war on drugs. He gave me a very vague answer.

NOOR: There was discussion of the criminal justice system, and changing some of the tactics that have cause rifts between communities and law enforcement over the past few decades. What wasn't mentioned was the war on drugs. And there's a growing number of current and former law enforcement officials that say you can't really end this cycle of violence and crime without first ending the war on drugs. What's your response to that?

MANGER: What we know is that there are folks that are robbing banks, that are committing other crimes to support a drug habit. What we know is that there are drug wars going on between gangs that are trying to control the drug trade. So I think that for us to throw up our hands and say well, gee whiz, the war on drugs hasn't worked, would be irresponsible.

LARRY KIRK, POLICE CHIEF, OLD MONROE, MI: I think it's irresponsible to keep progressing down a path that's not working.

NOOR: Not all police chiefs agree with Manger. Among those is Larry Kirk, police chief of Old Monroe, Missouri and a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of 5,000 current and former law enforcement officials who are calling for an end to the drug war.

KIRK: The demand for drugs has not dropped. The importation of drugs in this country has not dropped. There's, nothing about this has worked at all. Incarcerating folks that are addicted to narcotics is not the best solution. But I don't think you can ignore the criminal enterprises that are selling these narcotics, that are looting pharmacies, and whatever we talk about. They're saying, well, there's people who are robbing banks and [robbing] stores to [inaud.] up their drug habit. Yes, of course, because we're not stopping that [inaud.] drugs.

But at the same time we're still treating people who are drug addicts as criminals, and we're still not addressing the mental health aspects of it.

MANGER: Well I think that you've seen communities throughout our nation one by one decriminalize, legalize, certain drugs. And I think that the jury's still out on how effective those strategies will be.

KIRK: You have all that money now that comes in. The sales tax that was going into the pockets of drug dealers, back to street gangs, back to cartels. That's money now that's going back into communities. That's money that can be going back into mental health services. That can be going back into education. So I think that that's just grossly negligent on our part to try to say, oh, there's illegal drug sales so it doesn't help to try to regulate an aspect of it. And it is working. It's working in Washington, it's working in Colorado, and it's working in [Alaska] and it'll work in--and to say it's not is just holding on to a pipe dream.

NOOR: At the conference officials told us there had been no discussion of ending the war on drugs.

LAWRENCE BROWN, ASSISTANT PROF., MORGAN STATE UNIV.: No, no. Of course it's not on the table, because it's feeding a revenue-generating police department and criminal justice system. It's feeding prisons and rural areas that give people jobs.

NOOR: That's Morgan State's Lawrence Brown. He's examined the national crime wave. He argues without addressing urban poverty and highly segregated communities we can't expect to deal with the root causes of violence.

BROWN: Of course there's an interest in stopping, because we've never said, let's tackle segregation. We've only been interested in this country and in Baltimore City in maintaining it and intensifying it. And I think that's the issue that we have to look at.

NOOR: From Washington, this is Jaisal Noor.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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