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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

NJ Mayor Redirects His Anger To The War on Drugs

It's a long article and it's in Newark, but that doesn't mean it's much different than Denver. We still don't have money for treatment and we still send people to prison for being drug addicts. It's going to take the outrage of public officials who are truly committed to real public safety to get change to happen.

NEWARK _ The BlackBerry in Mayor Cory Booker's jacket pocket signals him every time the gunfire in Newark claims another victim. It happens almost every day.

A man shot in the neck while fending off a robber on Spruce Street at dusk. Two men shot in the face during an argument on 19th Street just after midnight. A man assassinated on Clinton Avenue by a gunman who fired several shots into his chest from close range.

That BlackBerry carries grim news.

"It's frustrating," Booker says, shaking his head. "I've said this is what I'm going to hang my hat on, the safety of my residents. That's how I want to be judged. That's my mandate."

For Booker, it has been a sobering first year as mayor. When he swore his oath last summer he was the whiz kid, the fast-talking Rhodes scholar with a million strategies to make the city safe. He pinned everything on that.

Now he is staring into this abyss, and it's leaving a mark on him. He is an angrier man now. And the focus of that anger is a public policy that he believes is ruining his city and threatening his hopes to change it.

The problem, he says, is New Jersey's tough tactics in the drug war. We are heavy on jail time and unforgiving even when prisoners finish their terms. At a time when even states like Texas are changing course, we are sticking with our failed strategy.

The result is to turn thousands of young men into economic cripples and to give the crime wave in Newark a flood of fresh recruits. Booker describes it as almost an economic genocide against African-American men in his city.

And if it doesn't change, he says, he's ready to go to jail in protest, in the tradition of the civil rights movement.

"I'm going to battle on this," the mayor says. "We're going to start doing it the gentlemanly way. And then we're going to do the civil disobedience way. Because this is absurd.

"I'm talking about marches. I'm talking about sit-ins at the state capitol. I'm talking about whatever it takes."

He wants to reserve prison cells for those who do violence and divert the nonviolent drug offenders into treatment programs and halfway houses.

He wants to change the New Jersey laws that bar many ex-cons from getting a driver's license. He wants a black kid from Newark who sells marijuana to clear his record as easily as the white kid from the suburbs who buys it.

He wants to stop banning ex-cons from such a long list of jobs, including warehouse jobs at the nearby airport.

The scale of the problem is staggering: About 1,500 convicts are released from state prison to Newark each year, and 1,000 of them will likely be arrested again within three years -- mostly for drug crimes.

"The drug war is causing crime," Booker says. "It is just chewing up young black men. And it's killing Newark."


At his headquarters, Police Director Garry McCarthy sat behind a big wooden desk and looked over the stat sheets.

"It's really mind-boggling," he says. "I don't have an answer."

The mystery is at the heart of Booker's major failure as mayor so far: After a year in office, the city's horrifying murder rate has barely budged. And last year's 105 homicides was the highest number in more than a decade.

McCarthy is perplexed because every other crime in the city is dropping like a stone. The number of people hit by gunfire is down by 31 percent this year. Reported burglaries are down 36 percent, rapes by 18 percent and robberies by 16 percent.

McCarthy's best guess is that the drug trade is the root cause. The killings this year tend to be more ruthless, he says -- one bad guy shooting another at close range with a potent weapon.

"We're stopping the random shootings," he says. "But the targeted assassinations we have had a lot of trouble getting inside of. These guys are not trying to send a message. They're trying to hurt that other person."

McCarthy is a veteran New York City cop with a belligerent look, like he's ready for a fistfight at any moment. But he's with Booker on the need to retool the drug war.

"I don't possess the answer, but something different has to be done," he says.

Talk to any of the people on the front lines of the drug war -- the cops, the judges, the social workers -- and you hear a lot of frustration like that. These are people who see the results up close and know that the tough approach simply isn't working.

Take Barnett Hoffman, a retired judge in Middlesex County who spent years sending addicts to prison with a growing sense of futility. Hoffman started a drug treatment program in the county jail, but he says that diverts only a trickle of the addicts flooding the state prisons at an annual cost of $32,400 each.

"I don't think the public understand two things," he says. "One, how expensive it is to lock somebody up. And two, they think all drug dealers are Al Pacino, and they're not. They're a bunch of people who have made bad decisions and have become addicted to drugs."

Hoffman now chairs a state commission pushing to divert more drug offenders into treatment and to cut back on mandatory prison terms, especially the one mandating three years for drug offenses within 1,000 feet of a school.

The impact of that law is profoundly racist. In Newark, the entire city is within a drug zone except the airport. Hoffman's commission found that 96 percent of those sentenced under the school zone laws are African-American or Latino.

Dave Kerr has another up-close view on the drug war. He runs a sprawling treatment program out of a handful of brownstones in downtown Newark. Nearly every day, addicts knock on his door asking for help and he has to turn them away because his beds are filled.

"We have 423 people on the waiting list right now," he says.

That's 423 more addicts in Newark, fueling the drug trade, committing crimes and in many cases abusing or neglecting their children. Many of them will wind up in jail, which is far more costly than Kerr's treatment program.

"It's just crazy," Kerr says.


If Booker really does push this, his fight in Trenton will be as difficult to win as the fight on Newark's streets.

New Jersey may be a liberal state -- but not when it comes to the drug war. Our prison system, which costs just over $1 billion a year, is stuffed with nonviolent drug offenders. They take up about one-third of all the beds, the highest portion in the country. Our barriers to employment after prison are also among the nation's toughest.

So far, the Legislature has shown no interest in changing the tough mandatory sentences that apply in most drug cases.

In late 2005, Hoffman's commission proposed redrawing the drug zones to 200 feet of schools, rather than 1,000 feet. This came after they found almost none of those arrested in the zones was selling drugs to schoolchildren.

But even that modest move provoked a backlash. Assemblyman Peter Biondi (R-Somerset) drew up a bill to toughen the mandatory penalties.

"People are looking for more severe penalties, not lesser penalties," Biondi says.

Still, some changes are possible. Assemblyman Joe Cryan (D-Union), the Democratic state chairman, said the Legislature is open to expanding the drug courts, which divert offenders into treatment programs, because they have proved wildly successful in reducing recidivism.

Legislators also may be willing to knock down barriers that are keeping ex-cons from getting jobs. Under current state law, ex-offenders are banned from working at airports, in government jobs and as home health aides, for example.

"If we don't do anything, they'll just wind up back in prison," Cryan says. "There's more understanding on that now."

That is exactly where Booker wants to start.

He knows it'll be tough. But when he talks about it, the political smile disappears and he wears the expression of a man preparing to smash his head into a brick wall if that's what it takes.

Lucky thing. Because that wall is sturdy. And it's way past time that someone knocked it down.



Anonymous said...

Common sense from Cryan and Booker, I'm Shocked. But we know there are no second chances for in NJ.

Anonymous said...

說起這位明英宗朱祁鎮 真是好有一比:在北京高峰時酒店經紀段開車:生不完的氣。

先說年號問題,明朝皇帝在位時間再長, 酒店兼差年號也只有一個,惟獨他特殊,在位總共不過十五年,年號卻有兩個,前一個叫正統,後一個叫天順。倒不是因為他非要搞特權,兩個年號之間, 禮服店是由一大堆可氣的事串起來的。

先說正統朝,差不多是地球酒店打工人都知道的,這麼多的忠良幹才他不信任,偏寵信一個教書先生出身的太監王振, 一幹閹党把國家禍害得烏煙瘴氣。後來瓦剌犯邊,忠臣良將的苦勸不聽,偏聽死太監攛掇,非要御駕親徵, 合法酒店經紀帶著幾十萬人牛氣哄哄出了長城,按說既然親徵你就好好 打啊,他不,走到半道又後悔了,連敵人影 酒店工作都沒見著就撤兵,撤兵麼撤得快點啊,跑還沒跑成,讓人家圍在土木堡包了餃子,稀裏糊塗一場 酒店上班混戰,幾十萬大軍全死 光,連本人也當了俘虜。丟人到如此,實在可氣。

英宗被抓到蒙古高原上去啃生羊肉了, 酒店兼職爛賬總要有人收拾。皇帝讓人綁了,敵人打到家門口了,總不成學宋朝 來個衣冠南渡吧!還好喝酒 有他親弟弟給他收拾,弟弟朱祁鈺繼承帝位,改年號為景泰,可氣的正統朝總算結束了。景泰帝信用 酒店PT良臣于謙,成功組織北京保衛戰打垮敵 人,再運用外交壓力,逼得酒店喝酒 瓦剌把英宗放回來當太上皇,總算不用學宋徽宗那樣客死他鄉。折騰半天,祖宗江山差點丟了不說 禮服酒店,皇位也折騰沒了。這樣的鬧劇,怪不 得別人。

雖是傻事敗事一籮筐,但傻人總算有傻福,雖說皇位沒了, 台北酒店經紀命還是保住了,回來舒舒服服過太上皇的日子倒也 不交際應酬 錯,可他不消停,拉幫結派培植私人勢力,幾年後趁著弟弟病重搞了場“奪門之變”。奪粉味 回了皇位不說,上臺第一件事就是殺掉了功臣于謙。並把當初北京保衛戰 的功臣們來了個大清洗,掌握朝政大權的都是徐有貞、石亨、曹吉祥等一幫姦險小人。雖然過了沒幾年,這幾個人也被明英宗清算,下獄的下獄(石亨),充軍的充 軍(徐有貞) 寒假打工,被殺的被殺(曹吉祥),可明朝的政治氣象,還是一片烏煙瘴氣。

皇位奪回來了,自然就要改年號。於是,明英宗 兼差改年號為天順。從正統年到天順年,打敗仗,殺忠良,寵小人,亂國家,儘是他辦的敗事,每每讀史到此,不知有多少人氣得直哆嗦。

可正統朝的事畢竟年頭遠了,真正給後 暑假打工世攢下麻煩的,是天順朝。

“天順”麼,按字面意思,自然有風調雨順的意思。 打工從這個意義上說,“天順”朝時代的明朝,運氣還真不 壞,別的且不說,單說綁過明英宗票的瓦剌,那在土木堡創下台北酒店經紀擊敗明朝幾十萬大軍,活捉明朝皇帝偉業的瓦剌首領也先,沒死在大對頭明朝手裏,倒在內戰中被一刀 砍死。到了天順朝時期,瓦剌又和鄰居韃靼打個不停,因此,雖然少了良將於謙,但終天順一朝的邊 酒店境形勢,還算是太平無事。