Criminologist David Kennedy and author of “Dont’ Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America,” former NAACP directorBen Chavis, and Russell Simmons, chairman of Rush Communications and founder of globalgrind.com, joins MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan in Austin, Texas to talk about the failed War on Drugs and how the underlying problems of the Texas prison system.
As Dylan explained on the show:
“This segment aimed at one idea. The war on drugs is a monumental failure by any measure. Drug consumption, cost, this failed experiment has turned into a breeding ground for a prison system that is based on racism. An african-american is ten times more likely to be incarcerated for the exact same drug crimes as a white American. In order to keep this drug war alive, we are paying an astronomical price,” said Dylan.
“The cost of incarcerating 150,000 prisoners is $3.3 billion in 2010. And yet prescription drugs, pills, marijuana, are more prevalent in our society than ever. It is time to start treating drugs for what they are — a massive public health crisis, and funnel those wasted billions of dollars toward real reeducation and using people in the human capital that we are destroying in our society to harness and release it in our goal to create 30 million jobs.”
Criminologist David Kennedy, former NAACP director Ben Chavis, and Russell Simmons, founder of globalgrind.com, joins MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan in Austin, Texas to talk about the failed War on Drugs and the underlying problems of the Texas prison system.
Here’s a full transcript of their conversation:
DYLAN: You have a lot of endorsements around you that are emerging around your methodology. Give us some insight into exactly what it is you have been doing so that we can better understand it.
DAVID KENNEDY: So I work in some of the most desperate neighborhoods in the country. They are largely very historically damaged African-American neighborhoods. They have all kinds of issues and problems we need to pay attention to. There are a couple of things that are not part of the usual historical fabric that we’ve been dealing with that are doing tremendous damage. These are neighborhoods where if you are a young black man, one in 200 of you in some of these communities are killed by gunshot every year. They are neighborhoods that are driving the core American reality, which is that if you’re a black man, one in three of you will go to prison.
DYLAN: So, tell us what you’re doing.
DAVID KENNEDY: It’s not okay. Neither one of these things is all right. And what turns out to be true is that the community doesn’t think it’s okay. The guys on the corner don’t think it’s okay. Law enforcement doesn’t think it’s okay. Hardly anybody is driving the problem. It’s 10% of the 5% of the young men on the streets at the core of this violence. And those parties, the community, law enforcement, community service, all over the country they are getting together and sitting down face to face with the 10% of the 5%. They are saying we know who you are and what you’re doing, we all care about you. None of us want you dead or locked up. There’s a couple things you’re doing that has to stop. And we want to engage with you so we don’t have to bury you and we don’t have to lock you up.
DYLAN: What have your results been?
DAVID KENNEDY: You get the absolute elimination of street drug markets. You get 40-60% reductions in homicides in these neighborhoods. You get dramatic improvements in the lives of these guys that everybody is giving up on. It’s pretty remarkable.
DYLAN: Russell, when you hear David and see the endorsement from a conservative West Texas oil man, you see the endorsement from one of the cofounders of the Tea Party Patriots, your thoughts about these ideas and the moment we find ourselves in where we can create, obviously, a potentially massive and very diverse coalition around a simple idea.
RUSSELL SIMMONS: Well, no question that these kinds of ideas are useful — I wouldn’t even say useful, they are critical. We have to change the way we think. My experience with the drug laws growing up, all my friends died and went to jail. And I saw the damage that drugs did.
But it wasn’t the drugs so much, it was the war on drugs. A lot of my friends were diseased. Some grew out of it. Some were in prison. Most grew out of it. Some were in prison. And the ones who went to prison diseased came home criminal. And the cycle of these people going in and out created criminal, prison culture in the streets. And it damaged whole communities.
So we took diseased people and we put them back into communities as criminals and changed community’s fabrics. That’s an ongoing problem. That cycle of in and out of jail. We found that it’s not helpful in terms of eliminating crime. In fact, it’s the core of crime. The creation of crimes. That’s the problem we’re discussing.
So to have a solution like this that’s researched and ready to go and to ignore it, there’s only one reason for that. It’s because the prison industrial complex makes so much money incarcerating these people. So as long as they pay politicians to keep the laws on the books, I have had the experience of fighting these laws, I have had the experience of going to work with people who cared and finding out that even if the politicians cared, the ones who were in debt to the complex never voted or raised their voice to change the laws. We know this is a failed drug war. We know people are going to jail and not threatening to our community. We know that when they come home, they will be a threat to our communities. We have to make a change.
DYLAN: Listen. There’s a remarkable amount of logic. There’s an increasingly broad basis of support. You have a man sitting next to you who has been living his life solving these problems in a way that has been giving demostratable success. We see what the barriers are — the money in politics, the profitablity of the prison industrial system. All of these aspects, Ben. What is it that we have to do next in order to give not only David more resources, but to truly elevate the necessary pressures to eliminate the stranglehold that the prison industrial complex has taken on our the way we govern country?
DR. BEN CHAVIS: David is definitely on the right track. What Russell is referring to in terms of experience, we built a grass roots movement to finally reform and change the Rockefeller drug laws. We are here at the LBJ Library — LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act, signed the Voting Act because of the Civil Rights movement — a grassroots movement. That’s what Occupy the Dream is emerging. We’re getting the black church reengaged. We’re going to challenge these issues. Take the research and the study that David has done, but you’ve gotta involve the participants. You’ve got to involve people in the community. We’re changing consciousness.
We have to get money out of politics. We’ve got to have the constitutional amendment. We have to deal with providing the 30 million jobs. We have to involve more than 30 million to people to create the 30 million jobs. We’re on board. We have to work hard. We have to deal with green energy. At the end of the day, that’s what I’m here in Texas for. We’re going to meet tonight and we’re going to build this movement. We’re going to turn this situation around from the bottom up.
DYLAN: And if you were to look at — what is it that you need the most right now, David, to do more of this?
DAVID KENNEDY: I need him. [points to Dr. Chavis]
DYLAN: Ha ha… I think you got him!
RUSSELL SIMMONS: Let me interject. What Ben is saying is important about the black church. It’s the union between the black church and the unions and the black church and the Occupy Wall Street people going together for Occupy the Dream.
This is a historical thing in that there’s a collaboration that’s going to make the difference. And again, it’s not only the black church and the unions, it’s the Tea Parties. It’s the people on the right. This is not a conservative or a liberal or progressive issue. This is an American issue.
We’re talking about people who spend $15 million to get billions out of our system. $3.3 billion in Texas alone. Just for the little bit of lobbying money. For the politicians, they can’t help it. The money out of Washington is so critical. They are paying to keep those laws on the books. It’s a small amount they are paying. But the return on their investment is too large to turn our head on and we have to change this.
DYLAN: And to that end, when you look at Tim Dunn, who is a west Texas oil man, a conservative in this country, you look at Mark Meckler, who is a conservative in this country and a founder of the Tea Party Patriots. You don’t need a greater understanding that this is not a left or right issue than to understand the intensity of your support and the intensity of Russell’s support and the intensity of my support and all these individuals. David, you get the last word. The world is with you if only the government understood that.
DAVID KENNEDY: No good American wants to live in America where we are locking up an entire people. It’s not right. And the more people see that, the more that common sense emerges. It’s just wrong.