Where was the Drug Czar? Where was the Border Czar?
Yeah, where were they? We know they weren't in El Paso Monday and Tuesday, September 21st and 22nd [See Footnote]. That's when the "Global Public Policy Forum" convened to discuss the U.S. War on Drugs 1969-2009. Yes, 2009 is not only the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, it's also the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon's declaration of the War on Drugs. If I didn't enjoy irony, life in the real world would be a lot more boring. The War on Drugs, of course, has failed miserably. In El Paso we only have to walk down the street and cross a concrete ditch of a river over into our sister city of Juárez to know this is a fact. 3200 people have been killed over there in the last 20 months as the El Paso/Juárez Cartel battles it out with el Chapo's Sinoloa Cartel. The forum was arranged in a unique collaboration between academia--led by Drs. Kathleen Staudt, Josiah Heyman, Howard Campell of UTEP and many others--and the city of El Paso led by City Councilperson Beto O'Rourke. The El Paso City Council, you might remember, created a national buzz earlier in the year when it unanimously resolved to ask for a national open and honest discussion about the drug war. Although vetoed by Mayor John Cook with a number of frivolous charges, that resolution and its veto was the stimulus for the El Paso Forum.
The speakers and panels, for the most part, were interesting and very well-informed, and they came from Mexico and the U.S., from the academic, media, political and legal communities. The gist of most of their talks were--as reformed drug warrior Terry Nelson kept hammering at--was that the huge problems caused by the sale, the use and addiction to illegal drugs (everything from the cartels and the costs of drug interdiction) was not the drugs themselves, but the prohibition of those drugs. Hello! The one naysayer to that point of view was Anthony Placido, the Chief of Intelligence of the Drug Enforcement Administration. His speech on Tuesday was compelling simply because it was full of fear-mongering (full of horrific show and tell of dead bodies and brains with holes in them) and faulty logic. The job of the "state," as he kept referring to the government, was security, and the state had to balance its perceived notion of security against civil rights. Very Cheneyesque.
Actually, I was not going to mention Placido's talk in this brief description, but Tuesday night I heard a chilling story from a high school teacher in the El Paso Independent School District. He was in class, getting ready to give out a test, when police officers arrived at the door of his classroom with drug-sniffing dogs. They ordered all of the students out of the class and into the hall way where they were lined up against the walls while the dogs searched the room for drugs. Like I say, I was horrified. This is Big Brother scary kind of stuff and it's certainly not the way to go about teaching kids to be open-minded and curious about their lives and the world in which they live. I do not understand why the EPISD, the school administrators, the teacher's union or a group of parents have not loudly protested this invasion of the high school. Meanwhile, as was pointed out during a number of the forum panels, it's easier for students to buy marijuana out on the streets than it is to buy alcohol.
Please, Mr. Placido, sit down, take a deep breath and smell the roses. We need to inform you that the drug war has been lost. Not to worry. The cartels have made enough money so they will not go away. There will be plenty for you to do.
Oh, well. I'm told that soon the whole forum will be on-line and I will put links up to the various panels and discussions. You'll be able to be the judge. In the meantime, I'll list several of the on-line resources that speak for some of the speakers, plus newspapertree.com's article linking to some of the many national and internation media articles arising from the forum--
The newspaper tree link. Also, there are a number of other articles there about the forum as well as other pieces about the drug war and life on the frontera in genera.
Judge Jim Gray, a Republican judge from Orange County, gave one of the most compelling speeches. He didn't break any new ground. He simply stated his own history of realizing that the drug war wasn't working and his journey of research to write his book Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed. He could have been talking to the Chamber of Commerce or to a religious congregation and his speech would have been the same--full of common sense and honest.
Terry Nelson, a tall gangly ex-DEA agent, spoke with the grit and humor of a guy who has been in the trenches on the other side and realizes he's doing the wrong thing. He's on the board of LEAP, aka Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. He's a fun guy to listen to. He came to El Paso earlier in the year to lobby the city council members to stand up to Mayor Cook's veto. Four did (one of whom was daughter Susie Byrd), four didn't. Oh well. Terry Nelson is the kind of guy you'd like to have over simply to listen to his stories.
Ethan Nadelmann founded and is the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. Ethan is a drug policy savant, the kind of guy you don't want to be on a panel with because he knows the answers to most all questions, and he answers them with wit and enthusiasm. The Drug Policy Alliance is hosting its annual International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Albuquerque, November 12-14. It should be a good event. The times, as Bobby D used to sing, are a changing.
Congratulations to UTEP and to the City of El Paso for hosting this event. It made us proud. Below is a trailer to the conference, but if you are on facebook reading this, then follow this youtube link.
Footnote. I should also note that a number of elected officials did not show their faces or send representatives. I saw six City Council members there sometime during the two days (Carl Robinson and Rachel Quintana were no shows). Mayor Cook spoke at the beginning and his assistant Robert Andrade was helping organize during both days, County Attorney Jose Rodriguez spoke on one of the panels and attended several discussion, Congressman Silvestre Reyes sent a representative, likewise State Senator Eliot Shapleigh. It would have been nice to see our District Attorney Jaime Esparza, somebody from the police administration, somebody from the Sherriff's office. The Governor and Texas Senators should not be expected to attend because...well, somehow El Paso is not really part of Texas. Why? I don't know.