table OF contents LAW & DISORDER PART I Letter From
Devils, Heroes, and the Humans the pyschology of violent behavior
The First Amendment: there is a reason why it is the first The Supreme Court The Right to Bear Arms: should the second amendment still exist Get Active: Change.Org Does America Run on God, Separation? the matter of church vs. state
How High The Wall
Ridiculous Laws High Anxiety: why some drugs are legal and others are not. The Interview: Allen St. Pierre
Celebrity Justice: how justice is blind for the rich & famous
Editor-in-chief Joshua Grant
Managing Editor Jonathon Saia
Artistic Director Mika Watchaa
Staff Writers: Alana Kuwabara, Tylla Bradley, Stephen Saia, Heather Mingus, Laura Sheehan, Zachary Hughes Contributors: Gabriel Finnochio, Elizabeth J. Sparenberg, David Paulino, Robert Rood
Dear Reader, Sadly, summer has come to an end and it's time to head back to the daily grind. For many, that means a new fall semester, another work project, or other routines forgotten over the last three months. For us here at Mercutio, the fall means returning to our desks and working to bring you the most insightful analysis of political discourse on the web. We, like everyone else, spent the summer months watching the debt ceiling debacle, the GOP debates, and the bickering over a new jobs bill. The fall promises to bring heavier hitting politics as tensions are mounting due to the country's struggles with debt and highunemployment. September also brought with it the reminder of the events of September 11th, 2001. A day that will forever remind us of the importance of not taking anything we have for granted....for me, that's my Mercutio Team. This month we decided to tackle the American Criminal Justice system. This will be a two-part issue: the 1st published today, followed by the 2nd on September 23rd . We discuss those who take the law into their own hands, those who live outside of the law, and those who make the law. This issue is about understanding not only the flaws within the justice system, but it attempts to explain the nature of violence itself. Do guns make us violent? What about illegal drugs? America locks up more of its citizens that any other country....drug addicts, white collar criminals, and sex offenders fill the cells of our state and federal prisons...Perhaps Americans have a problem with bad behavior? We do our best to answer all of these questions and more.
Joshua Grant Editor-in-chief firstname.lastname@example.org
. . .
DEVILS, HEROES, AND THE HUMANS IN BETWEEN Heather Mingus
magine a face on a violent offender. The person you imagine will most likely be your personification of Evil, rooted in your personal experience and exposure to the world around you. Now, change it. Imagine your own face on the violent offender. Imagine your best friend. It will, no doubt, be unpleasant. It will also be a more accurate representation of many violent crimes that occur. Whether you choose to accept it or not, ordinary people - people like yourself and those you're closest to - are capable of violent and aggressive crime. Will you ever be presented with life's variables that make this aggression surface to an extreme? Probably not. But does the possibility of its fruition exist within you? Sure it does. Like all other instincts of evolutionary survival (mating, anyone?), aggression exists in gradient levels from person to person. While some individuals are born with mental illness that incites violent or aggressive behavior, they do not account for all homicides or assaults. Nancy Dess, coeditor of Evolutionary Psychology and Violence, believes that we must "[embrace] all of what it means to be human, not just what we wish to believe about ourselves." The danger in believing violence is only capable by those considered Other and Evil is that our society risks perpetuating the causes of ordinary violence and everyday aggression. Take a look at the statistics: in 1980, the total number of violent crimes - including murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault - was around
1,345,000. In 2008, almost three decades later, the number differs by only 37,000. The numbers fluctuate briefly in the early 90s, but overall we are a society that has not made even gradual progress in quelling and preventing violence. It's frightening when an online web search of the word "violence" garners 44,200 recent news results in less than half of a second. It's even more fright-
“The danger in believing violence is only capable by those considered Other and Evil is that our society risks perpetuating the causes of ordinary violence and everyday aggression.” ening to realize that little has been done to truly address the problems behind it. But are the problems (and their roots) even clear? One of the most unaddressed causes of ordinary-aggressor violence, according to David Livingstone Smith of Forbes. com, is dehumanization. In a segment included in the piece “25 Ideas To Change the World”, Smith, an associate professor at the University of New England, posits that violence is very difficult for human beings. Society sees far more suicides each year than
war and homicide deaths combined, which suggests to him that we have developed strong instincts that inhibit our ability to commit lethal violence. His view that they co-exist - this combination of instinct and inhibition - is expressed as "fundamental features of the human animal." He believes that it is only when the balance between them is upset that we become capable of the unspeakable. Dehumanization is, what he believes, the preventable cause for many heinous crimes committed by ordinary men. It "excludes victims from the universe of moral obligation, so killing them is of no greater consequence than swatting a mosquito, or poisoning a rat". During his research he discovered that dehumanization, while frequently discussed, was not researched frequently on a scholarly level; a "dangerous omission" that is a step in truly beginning to eradicate violence at a basic human level. How human beings arrive at this dehumanization can differ, though the paths frequently lead to the same terrifying end. The beginning of process is with the mark of Other: you are not like me. This can progress in many different ways to: you are Evil. It can begin harmlessly with ego, gradually progressing into a constant viewpoint that the individual is better, or more deserving, than others. As it inflates, Others can be treated with less and less compassion, until it can escalate into some form of violence or abuse without any moral repercussions to the egoist individual. Another form of ego can be fostered within a group, organi-
zation, or even a country. Blind faith in religion or nationalism, when taken to an extreme of "I will do anything because it is of greater moral good," can result in horrific events like genocide, and what we currently struggle with: terrorism. Because assailants are committed to their cause, their belief system, so wholly, those moral obligations rise above all else, making violence acceptable in terms of the greater good. These are not sociopaths. They are not Evil people, per se. They are simply blinded by extreme dedication to a hierarchy that has abandoned compassion and regulation of its followers, stripping them of individual morality. The most powerful example of ordinary humans going through this transformation is the Stanford Prison Experiment. (For a visual, rent 2010's film The Experiment, starring Adrian Brody; it's loosely based around this experiment.) In 1971, Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo conducted an experiment that would forever change the way we view who is capable of abuse and violence, and why
seemingly ordinary people can inhabit such an immediate shift in moral compass. 24 "highly-selected college student volunteers" were chosen for an experiment that was intended to last two weeks, but was halted after only six days. The situation was this: a coin was flipped and half of the participants were assigned as guards. Half were assigned the role of prisoner. Guards had limited supervision, especially during the night shifts, when the more brutal acts occurred, and almost immediately became corrupted by the power presented to them. It was when the prisoners began to rebel
that this power was tested and the aggression from the guards began. As Dr. Zimbardo puts it, "Good, normal young men had been corrupted by the power of their role". After only a few days, these "good, normal young men" were beginning to enforce sexually degrading acts against the participating "prisoners". What needs to be understood about the extreme progression of these behaviors is not that these young men were initially Evil. They were glaringly ordinary. It was the situation they were placed into that exploited their innate responses to power and freedom from moral responsibility that magnified any existing aggression within them. Once they were put in a position of Us vs. Other - and Other began to question them, began to bruise the ego of their status - they justified their aggression as thwarting Evil, suppressing the Other side with any means necessary. Under little-to-no supervision, the results became extreme very quickly. The most frightening component of this study is that it was not brought to an end by Zimbardo himself. He was self-
assigned the role of Prison Superintendent as well as Principal Investigator, positions that he specified "are not bothered by such reactions," regarding the abuse from the guards and the subsequent emotional breakdowns by the prisoners. He had become a part of his own experiment, numbed to the moral reality of what was truly occurring between these men. It was not until an outside graduate assistant, Christina Maslach, arrived that Zimbardo was shaken back to reality, halting the experiment. Maslach fought with Zimbardo about the cruelty she witnessed, who then realized, "that double slap in the face was the catalyst for my realizing that the study had worked too well, that those powerful situational forces had also corrupted me." While some may argue that it was merely an extreme experiment and not a representation of the real world, a strikingly similar real-world example presented itself years later in Abu Ghraib with the torture of Iraqi prisoners by US military persons. The prisoners were shown much like the prisoners of Zimbardo's experiment: naked, heads bagged, abused, and sexually humiliated. Zimbardo recognized the Stanford Prison Experiment in this torture and came to realize it was not only the actions that were mirrored in Abu Ghraib, but the situation and "psychological principles" that were also parallel. These were men and women who were on the night shift, given an unusual amount of power to which they were not previously accus-
"I will do anything because it is of greater moral good," can result in horrific events like genocide, and what we currently struggle with: terrorism. â&#x20AC;&#x153; tomed, and were under little to no supervision at the time of the abuse. Therefore, much of the violence is spurred not only by the individuals committing the crimes, but by their governments or supervisors that are
not adequately monitoring their behavior and enforcing low tolerance for violently immoral behavior. Zimbardo believes that this relationship between leaders and followers should extend into the punishment of these individuals. "[...] the blame for such abuse should not be limited to the few grunts at the end of the food chain - the so called 'rogue soldiers.' If their immoral actions were fueled by the horrible situation they were forced to work in then we must also put
in the docket those who helped create that situation - the Power Boys running that sorry show." He believes that responsible leaders who enforce messages of tolerance and respect for the personal dignity of prisoners will create environments where this kind of abuse does not occur. Those beneath them will return to their personal moral compass and be less likely to feel that they are operating as part of a morality-free higher power or belief system. The situations at Stanford and Abu Ghraib are extreme, but what they teach can be applied to the prevention of everyday violence in youth, which is the key to a less violent future. While young boys and girls are inundated with violence on television, movies, and video games, it is not impossible to teach them that violence is still a choice they can choose not to make. Like the prisoners, it is when children are given too much freedom under too little supervision, with no guidelines that enforce that violence or aggression will never be tolerated, that they are more likely to use aggression as their choice of action. This oversight, combined with education in communicative skills, is what James Gilligan -
against it. Turning a blind eye is just as harmful to those who see the impact of violence as committing the crime itself. Zimbardo calls this action "socio-centric act[s] against the evolutionary imperative of being ego-centric, of not taking risks or putting those precious genes in harm's way." We not only must acknowledge harm and violence, but remove ourselves from stasis and begin working against them. This action begins with the education necessary for the prevention of future violence, which in turn, will cause those acting as examples to transform as well. Humans must recognize their own ability to be violent and work actively against it in all forms (even those that exist within themselves). Then, maybe in another three decades, the number of violent crimes will see a much more significant drop than a few tens of thousands.
a clinical professor in the areas of Psychology and Law in the School of Arts and Science New York University - believes can quell violence. "[...] if people can express themselves and communicate verbally, they don't need violence and they are much less likely to use their fists or weapons as their means of communication. They are much more likely to use words. I'm saying this on the basis of clinical experience, working with violent people." Zimbardo believes that it can even be taken a step further. In addition to creating environments where youth are more
educated and monitored in areas of communication and non-violence, they must also be taught about heroism. Ordinary people - you and your best friend you pictured as violent offenders - are also capable of extraordinary heroism. Just like the progression into violence and ego-centricity, the progression into heroism takes place gradually. A person must be taught to slowly move from a state of passivity regarding harm toward others to a place of selflessness strong enough to take action against this harm. It is not sufficient to create children who do not partake in violence, but those who actively partake in justice
â&#x20AC;&#x153;If people can express themselves and communicate verbally, they don't need violence and they are much less likely to use their fists or weapons as their means of communication.â&#x20AC;?
THE FIRST AMENDMENT: THERE’S A REASON WHY IT’S THE FIRST
he United States of America was still in her infancy when concerns arose regarding her Constitution; states were unhappy with the ambiguity regarding which powers the government had (and didn’t have). It was decided that a new document should be written and ratified, which would restrict the government’s power in specific instances and explicitly state which freedoms were protected. Thus, in 1791, the Bill of Rights was born.
Laura Sheehan Today, few of us can cite each of the ten amendments verbatim, but for the most part (I’d like to think), American citizens are familiar with the general idea behind the Bill of Rights and which freedoms it protects. We know that it says we have the right to “bear arms” to defend ourselves, we know we have a right to privacy against illegal “searches and seizures,” and if we were really paying attention in high school Government class, we’d know about the one which prevents soldiers from barging into our
homes during peacetime and demanding to sleep on our couch. But by far the most well-known amendment is the first one: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In short, the First Amendment
protects our freedom of expression. It says that as American citizens we have the right to believe in whatever G-d we chose, or no god at all. It says that the government can’t control what we say or write, even if the person saying or writing it is publishing their thoughts in a newspaper or book or magazine, or broadcasting it on radio or television or over the Internet. It says Americans are allowed to march down Main Street in protest and conduct Wiccan equinox celebrations by moonlight and host Dungeons & Dragons games in the basement. And it says that if the government ever tries to deny us any of these rights, then we have the right to call them on it. It’s actually quite a beautiful piece of legislation; one 45word sentence that embodies all of what America stands for: diversity, freedom/liberty, justice. Sure, its simplicity causes a bit of ambiguity, but that’s part of its beauty. It was written clearly enough to protect freedom of expression for American citizens for a couple hundred years and counting, and yet it was vague enough to allow that protection to stay relevant. Over the years, we’ve needed to utilize the judiciary branch now and then to clarify exactly what speech is protected under the law and what isn’t, but so far, I think the courts have done pretty well. The courts have helped identify specific types of speech that are not protected by the First Amendment, such as child pornography, obscenity, defamation, incitement, and "fighting
words.” They’ve also had to remind governmental officials now and then that they can’t remove a book from a library simply because the librarian disagrees with the ideology of that book, and that it can’t force its citizens to salute the flag or pledge allegiance to it. Again, I think we’ve done an admirable job both protecting and restricting the First Amendment over the past several hundred years, despite the
ever-changing scenarios our country has found itself in. And then the Snyder v. Phelps decision was announced. Fred Phelps is the head of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), an institution whose media-whoring stunts blaspheming homosexuality and non-Baptist religions has led most of society to label it as a hate group. They are most infamous for picketing at the funerals of fallen American sol-
diers, one of whom was Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder (U.S. Marine Corps), who died in the Iraq war (2006). Members of the WBC protested near the funeral location and the WBC website criticized Snyder’s family for raising Matthew as a Catholic. At the protest, WBC members carried signs that declared, “God hates you,” and “Thank God for dead soldiers.” Snyder’s father subsequently took Phelps to court, originally for invasion of intrusion upon
seclusion, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy. In a lower court of law, a judge instructed the jury to decide whether or not the speech in question was protected by the First Amendment, or if it was too extreme so as to be offensive to a reasonable person, and therefore not protected under the law. The jury decided it was the latter, and awarded Snyder several million dollars in damages. Justice served, yes?
“Although we’ll gladly send him off to Hell, we won’t harass his family at the funeral about it. Why? Because that’s how laws should work: they should protect everyone, not just the people we like.” Or not. Upon appeal, the Supreme Court (in an 8-1 decision) disagreed. They pointed out that it should not have been the original jury’s responsibility to decide a question of law (whether or not WBC’s protests were protected by the First Amendment), but rather that the jury’s responsibility is only to decide a question of fact. They also argued that because the WBC protestors stayed within the cordoned-off area and since only the tops of their protest signs could be seen, that Snyder’s memorial service was therefore not interfered with. Because of this, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Phelps and damages were instead awarded to the WBC. My immediate reaction to this ruling was one of disgust… nauseous, bitter disappointment in my country and its court of law for siding with such a hateful person. Did our founding fathers really intend to protect a racist homophobe who shouts at the family of a fallen soldier that God hates
them because of their religion? Could such revolting speech really be protected based on technicalities regarding the location of protestors and how visible their signs were? Is that really what the First Amendment is meant for? And a small voice inside me answered, “Yes.” Suddenly I saw Michael Douglas standing at a podium as the fictional U.S. President Andrew Shepherd in The American President (directed by Rob Reiner, written by Aaron Sorkin, 1995): "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours." Damn you, Aaron Sorkin. Fuck you for being right. That is what the First Amendment is about. I shouldn’t be trying to silence Phelps and his
followers, I should be shouting at the top of my lungs to drown them out. And in a way, that’s what America has been doing. The vast majority of the media has condemned the WBC for being the ridiculous, ignorant, revolting hate group that it is. Both Republicans and Democrats have used his “church” as the perfect example of how not to behave. Ordinary citizens have counter-protested the WBC, carrying signs with messages of peace and using their bodies to physically shield funeral-attendees from having to see the WBC picket lines. Gay rights activists have enacted the old adage about actions being louder than words and engaged in samesex make-out sessions in front of appalled WBC protestors. And those who still aren’t satisfied should exercise their First Amendment rights and petition our government to pass a law prohibiting anyone to protest near/within sight of a funeral or
a memorial service so that no one has to suffer through what Snyder’s family endured. And then we should recognize and respect that same law when Phelps finally dies: Although we’ll gladly send him off to Hell, we won’t harass his family at the funeral about it. Why? Because that’s how laws should work: they should protect everyone, not just the people we like. The more I think about it, the more I realize that the First Amendment isn’t just about protecting freedom of expression. It serves as a reminder of what our country truly stands for. It forces us to recognize that our country is diverse, and that in itself makes us stronger. It encourages us to engage in true discussion and debate, for without that our country will never achieve its full potential. Justice Louis D. Brandeis perhaps put it best: “[Those who won our independence believed] that the greatest menace to freedom is
an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government… If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” So if you have something to say, go grab a poster board and a Sharpie, get up on that soap box, bring some Ricola throat lozenges, and make yourself heard! Or simply write a magazine article.
"You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours."
The Supreme Court
The Unites States Supreme Court, the highest court in the country, deals with issues of constitutionality; thus, setting mandates that are applicable for the nation (i.e. Roe v Wade, Gideon v Wainwright, Lawrence v Texas, etc.). But how does a case get to the Supreme Court? There are actually a few ways: 1) Writ of Certiorari: A plaintive files a petition to have their case, already heard by a lower court in their state, reviewed and overruled. This is the most common. Four out of the nine Justices must approve the case for it to be accepted. 2) Appeal from a State Supreme Court: Under the 10th Amendment, states have certain rights of self-government and are allowed to their own Supreme Court that decides the laws for their citizens. However, if a decision is reached that questions constitutionality, the State Supreme Court will petition the federal court for a writ. 3) Original Jurisdiction: On the rare occasion, the Supreme Court will decide to hear a case that has been untried. For example, the Supreme Court heard State of New Jersey v. State of New York over the ownership of Ellis Island.
THE RITE TO BEAR ARMS: SHOULD THE 2ND AMENDMENT STILL EXIST? Branwen Brigid Stroll “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
ew sentences have caused as much debate in American politics as the one above. It is the full text of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. No other freedom evokes as much passion in its defense or discomfort in perceived excesses. Its protection of arms ownership is one of the most practiced rights mentioned in the Bill of Rights. It is the reason Americans are better armed than any other developed nation on Earth; according to the Brookings Institution in 1995, a quarter of the population (roughly 65.5 million people) had firearms; in 2005, Gallup showed that 3 out of 10 Americans (approximately 86.4 million) owned a gun. Taking into consideration the number of people who own more than one – or harbor an illegal weapon – and the number of guns in this country is probably close to the number of citizens. Guns are definitely part of the American Way. The second amendment was drafted specifically to prevent a government armed force
from being created and overstepping its bounds, as well as to provide for citizens’ self defense. Historically, standing armies have been used to coerce civilians into giving up their wages, serving as cannon fodder and generally being enslaved. The framers of the constitution had seen firsthand the power of oppression a standing army gave the government and were determined to ensure that such oppression would not take place in America. While a standing army was formed during
the War of 1812, the spirit of protection from oppression still remains. While many believe that anyone who fears the government is actively attacking its own citizens is paranoid, the US government has in fact interned and killed citizens that were considered enemies of the nation. The internment of citizens of Japanese descent during World War II, the lynching of African Americas in the
South for decades, the Kent State shooting and the near daily reports of police violence against ethnic, sexual, and religious minorities are all instances of governmental coercion and assault against American citizens. Clearly, the idea that citizens ought to have some physical defense in the face of government agents acting by themselves – as well as protection from other citizens – has some bearing. The problem is that the wording of the second amendment does not explicitly state that individuals have a right to own arms for the purpose of self-defense. Still, its language of a “well regulated militia” has given rise to an interpretation that it does. In 2008, USA Today/Gallup found that 73% of Americans believed the Second Amendment afforded them the freedom to own a gun. Finally, in June of 2010, the Supreme Court, extending upon the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, put the naysayers to rest by confirming that, yes, the American people did have “the right to bear arms” in a 5-4 decision with McDonald v. Chicago. But this doesn’t mean that
there aren’t regulations. Many municipalities have laws on the books that effectively ban gun ownership within city limits. Other regions ban assault style weapons and high capacity magazines. States have the power to give permits for concealed weapons; however, all states but Illinois follow a “shall-issue” basis -- if there are no reasons why one cannot have a permit one must be issued the permit. (Illinois has been forced to overturn their gun ban due to McDonald v. Chicago). ATF – The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives – performs many of the regulatory duties like making sure guns are licensed and ensuring criminals do not possess weapons. The National Firearms Act makes ownership of fully automatic weapons illegal without a tax stamp. The Assault Weapon Ban of 1994 makes certain weapons and magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds illegal. And the Brady Act makes background checks for handgun purchases mandatory. Despite our best efforts, the fact remains that firearms are
the weapons of choice for homicide and suicide in America. In 2007, the last year for which complete data is available (National Vital Statistics Record, Vol. 58 No. 19), there were 31,224 deaths by firearms. Of these, 17,352 were suicides, 613 were accidents, 12,362 were homicides and 276 were due to discharges of firearms of unknown intent. No doubt about it, guns kill a lot of people. However, they do in fact save lives. It is estimated that 1.5-2.5 million times a year, a gun is used in self-defense – not an insignificant number. Criminals freely admit to being afraid of potential victims who are armed. Guns have been shown to have a purpose as tools of individual self-defense. The data on the effectiveness of gun control and the effects of relaxed gun laws are conflicting. In Washington, DC, for example, the murder rate in 1996, after a citywide handgun ban the previous year, actually went up. Similar trends are seen in England and Wales after the 1968 Firearms Act. However, the years immediately after the 1982 handgun ban in Chicago did see a decline in murder rates, but now it ranks 15th in the nation with its homicide numbers more per capita than New York and Los Angeles combined. It seems that gun bans do not work well enough to offset the disarming of law abiding citizens. For better or for worse, the second amendment is here to stay. It does not look like Congress will at any time in the
near future begin the lengthy process of repealing the second amendment -- it would be political suicide even if it succeeded, which it most likely would not. Considering the fact that the government does conduct operations against the citizens of the US which are coercive in nature and mainly for the benefit of multinationals, that local police are getting more violent and that many people live in areas where gangs operate and routinely kill people unaffiliated with their
trade, the second amendment is not obsolete. Saying so is perhaps tantamount to saying that democracy is obsolete, for the power of the state is the power to do violence, and when the state exclusively has this power over its citizens, it is easy for zealots to attempt to violently remake society to their liking, which should – and does – give us the right to fight them at the barrel of our guns.
GET ACTIVE: CHANGE.ORG Change.org is the worldâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s fastest growing platform for social change, empowering millions of people to start and join campaigns for social change in their community, city, and country. Change.org member Jon Perri gave Team Mercutio an insight into the reform needed within the criminal justice system
How did you get involved with Change.org and criminal justice? I'm actually a brand new member of the Change.org staff - this is my second week on the job! I've spent the last three years as a staff member with Students for Sensible Drug Policy, an organization that empowers students to reform drug policies and before that, I worked as a substance abuse counselor. So I have a background in understanding how the criminal justice system works, particularly when it comes to drug policy. One of the major problems with the prison system in this country is that we have moved away from a rehabilitation system. Would you agree? What kind of system do we have now and why isn't it working? It seems to be the case that the prison system is more focused on punishment than rehabilitation. Recidivism rates in America are incredibly high and that seems to be sounding the alarm for the need to take a big look at prison reform. The goal of the prison system should be to help people better themselves, learn from their mistakes, and leave as contributing members to society. Instead, it's almost as if prisons have become factories for criminals - they learn little skills, are subjected to violence and inhumane treatments like solitary confinement, and find it nearly impossible to get jobs when they're out. The Education from the Inside Out Coalition has launched a campaign at Change.org that is ask-
ing Congress to restore Pell Grant eligibility to incarcerated people, so that they can earn degrees while in prison - they feel that might be a step in the right direction toward reducing recidivism. Many of our prisons are filled with non-violent drug offenders. Should people go to jail for drug addiction? If not, what is the alternative? The American Society of Addiction Medicine just recently declared that addiction is a brain disease. With that understanding, it's hard to believe that people with drug problems belong in prison. There are
alternatives like drug courts that promote treatment over incarceration and many states and counties are embracing this (though it's still a form of criminalization). A new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report just released this week shows that nearly one in 10 Americans admit to regularly using illegal drugs. That's not successful drug policy. In some cases, people do use illegal drugs without problems, and some question whether that needs to be against the law if those users aren't doing harm to others. We have laws against drunk driving and age
limits on alcohol consumption, but we aren't arresting responsible drinkers. The same logic can be applied to other drugs. After a mother of four was sentenced to 10 years in prison for a first time marijuana offense, a Change.org member created a petition to reduce the sentence. Cases like that certainly do provide a strong argument for drug decriminalization. How does our system deal with the mentally ill? What are some changes that need to be made in regards to those who need extra care? Take a look at the case of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man in Fullerton, CA who was beaten to death by six Fullerton police officers earlier this year. It's a high profile case that is drawing into question how the mentally ill are handled by law enforcement. A Change.org member has created a petition to have any footage of the beating released. In terms of law enforcement, it seems like the police in particular should receive training on how to handle situations involving mentally ill people. If our criminal justice system isn't reformed, what are the long-term consequences we might face? It seems that the biggest problem is going to be prison overcrowding and budget issues, which is already happening. California for example, has been ordered to reduce its prison population because facilities are so overcrowded that
it's become a human rights issue. States can't afford to continue building prisons, housing prisoners, and enforcing laws like marijuana prohibition.
to abolish the death penalty in various states. You can learn more about these campaigns and others by visiting http:// www.change.org
We see celebrities and the wealthy get off quite easily when it comes to breaking the law. Would it be true to say that the American criminal justice system is tilted against minorities and the poor?
How can young people get involved with prison reform?
I think it's true that, often times, expensive lawyers and legal teams are needed in order to prove one's innocence or to successfully argue for reduced sentences. A lot of people can't afford these services and end up facing a great deal of difficulty. Money is a big part of America's criminal justice system. Tell us about Change.org. What are you and your team currently working on? The staff at Change.org doesn't start or launch campaigns - we're here to empower and assist others to create change. People start petitions on our site and our staff helps turn those into successful campaigns. The campaigns are categorized into causes like human rights, sustainable food, and criminal justice for example. We're helping activists around the world with many different campaigns. Right now, Change.org members are working to reform criminal justice by launching campaigns to stop the execution of Troy Davis, to get a hearing for a federal marijuana legalization bill, to get justice for the murder of Kelly Thomas, and
Just look for organizations that are working on these issues and get involved. If you see something you want changed, visit Change.org and start a campaign!
“The goal of the prison system should be to help people better themselves, learn from their mistakes, and leave as contributing members to society. Instead, it's almost as if prisons have become factories for criminals.”
DOES AMERICA RUN ON GOD, OR HOW HIGH THE WALL OF SEPARATION? Alana Rozier Kuwabara
n preparation to answer the title question, I became utterly buried in a mass of political science, constitutional law, misguided beliefs, polarized opinions and questions answered only by more questions. As I tried to claw my way to the top of the, let’s just say it, mess that is truth and perception, what is known and what can be known, what we’re told and what we believe especially in modern America where we have become so pluralized in every facet of society as to be permanently divided and in which there seem to be fewer and fewer reliable,
unbiased sources of news and information, I realized I had to pare down, simplify – much like in the days of our Founding Fathers. Today we would like to impose a lot of ideas and opinions on the events and people that formed our great nation, impositions which are really nonsensical. When Thomas Jefferson penned his letter to the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut in 1801 directly after his election to the office of President, there were, for all intents and purposes, only Christians, Jews and deists in America.
Yes, there were perhaps a few agnostics, perhaps some atheists and definitely a lot of Native American polytheists. But they were so in the minority as to not be considered for this context. Generally speaking, everyone believed in a Higher Power and that belief was as normal and essential as believing the Earth was round. The foundation of America is a much discussed, controversial issue which ought to be a very simple one. All the blinking arrows point towards the Founding Fathers – the majority of them, not just the big names
that come to mind like Jefferson, Mason, Webster, etc – were Christians or deists. This cannot be argued against. What some would like to argue is “How Christian were they? Were they sincere or was it just what people did at the time?” I say – it doesn’t matter and you can never know. In the book of 1 Samuel, God says “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” Who are we to judge the hearts of anyone? All we can do is look at their actions. An apple tree makes apples and there’s no sense in saying that this particular apple tree believes itself to be a pear tree. The evidence is overwhelming that when the Constitution was being framed, it was being framed within the context of men who believed in God and this is the really crucial bit, believed that, as the first Congress put it in Article 3 of the Northwest Ordinance, “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind…” These were the same men who created the First Amendment, which we all vaguely know but literally states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
“Today we would like to impose a lot of ideas and opinions on the events and people that formed our great nation, impositions which are really nonsensical.”
Back to Jefferson. Jefferson did not help write the First Amendment. He wasn’t even in America at the time it was being written. When he coined the phrase “the wall of separation between church and state” it was a one-time occurrence. It was not meant to establish a basis for Federal laws but it has come to be crucial to any so-called church v. state issues. But it’s important to remember what the Founders intended. We may like to say “Well, nuts to what they intended. Times have changed.” But there we get into all sorts of trouble – so which laws should
stay based on the current preferences of our society and which should go? The whole point of a Constitution is that it is a fixed document, not subject to the whims of a particular people during a particular moment in time. Of course it needs to be interpreted but using the guidelines of its original intent, not by imposing and redefining. Well, what did the Founders intend? When it comes to Congress making “no law respecting an establishment of religion” they meant that there should be no Federally established religion. No “Church of America” like the Church of England that was a particular denomination and to which loyalty and adherence was enforced by Federal law. No one wanted a repeat of what had happened in England. However, it is interesting to note that when the First Amendment was ratified in September of 1789 and up until the 19th century there were multiple state-established churches. (For example, Massachusetts required all men to attend and pay taxes toward some form of Christian church until 1883) And it is of the utmost importance to note that while the courts have often chosen to interpret this “Establishment Clause” to mean that the U.S. Government should not show preference toward one religion over another and, even now, the very concept of religion over the concept of non-religion, this was not the original intent. In fact, the reason, as we well know, for the Bill of Rights was to make provision for certain civil liberties
that were not included in the Constitution. And a protection against Federally-established religion and for personal religious liberty were issues not included in the Constitution because they went without saying. To the Founders, these were at once obvious and also not things under the purview of the Federal government to mandate. These were matters for the States to look after, if anything. And that is a very important point that this article
sion for the “free exercise of religion,” the government was saying that right of religious expression was something the government gives rather than something that God gives (i.e. inalienable) and that therefore the government could decide to one day take it away. Boy, were they right to be concerned. In the 20th Century, Congress has taken Jefferson’s personal response to the Danbury Baptists and made it the foremost document, using
1798 “In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the general [federal] government.” Second Inaugural Address, 1805 “I consider the government of the United States as interdicted [prohibited] by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions . . . or exercises.” Letter to Samuel
“The mosque near Ground Zero...I could not, even if I wanted to, disagree with it on the basis of it being Islamic.” doesn’t really have time for. The tension and war between big and little government is ongoing. Suffice it to say, though, that the men who wrote and ratified both the Constitution and its Bill of Rights were antibig government and you would be too if you’d risked life and limb to create your own country after pulling out from under the thumb of a monarchy. Now, the Danbury Baptists wrote to President Jefferson concerned over the First Amendment because they felt that by including provi-
it to twist the First Amendment in order to rip religion, particularly Christianity, out of our public lives. Jefferson was also concerned about the safety of our religious liberty and expression from the eye and hand of the Federal government. Consider the following quotes from Jefferson written before and during his presidency: “[N]o power over the freedom of religion . . . [is] delegated to the United States by the Constitution.” Kentucky Resolution,
Millar, 1808 All of this to say, the manner in which the First Amendment and Jefferson’s “wall of separation” mention have been used by the Federal government to interfere or regulate religious expression is the exact opposite of their original intent. And so, into our public consciousness grows this idea that religious expression is for private home viewing only, so to speak, and any public expressions – be them the Ten Commandments hanging in a school to a coach leading the team in prayer before the big
game – violate “our rights” and by that people tend to mean “our Constitutional rights” which people don’t always realize means “goes against what is written in the Constitution and/or its Amendments.” I would argue that we don’t have a “right” to find public expressions of faith unconstitutional based on the evidence presented here and in countless other articles, books, speeches and the Constitution itself. Now, imagine our Nation actually “under God, indivisible” where freedom of religious expression means that any people – government officials, public school teachers, little league coaches – can pray and express their religion anytime and anywhere to anyone they please without fear of the government telling them they can’t. First of all, I would imagine that we would have more respect and even the dreaded, often misused term “tolerance” for religions other than our own when we don’t believe that those who express them offend our “rights.” To each his own, would be more our motto. I imagine that we would politely ignore and tolerate the religious expression of others in public settings rather than set out for a law suit. Secondly, issues like the mosque near Ground Zero wouldn’t really be issues. Personally, I found the location to be inappropriate, but as someone who correctly understands our Constitutional right to freedom of religious expression, I could not, even if I wanted to, disagree with it on the basis
of it being Islamic. What many people fail to remember when they so vehemently rail against this or that, claiming their rights are being violated, is that those on the opposite side can claim the same. I wouldn’t want the Federal government standing in the way of a Christian church being built, regardless of the circumstances surrounding it. However, as a Libertarian-leaning Independent, I have no problem with the people voting against its construction. That is how our nation was intended to work. Sorry – now we’re getting into that area which I said we didn’t have time for. So, let me conclude this segment with a statement that I feel summarizes and bullseyes much better than I
can. Jefferson in Notes on the State of Virginia (Philadelphia: Matthew Carey, 1794), Query XVIII, p. 237. “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure if we have lost the only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?” As to the question “Does America Run on God?” or is America “still” a “Christian” nation, we’d have to ask a few more questions to even get close to the truth but I believe the most important one is “What is a Christian nation”? If a Christian nation is one where the majority of its citizens claim
adherence to the Christian faith, then, yes, America is a Christian nation. But does this tree believe itself to be a pear tree while dropping apples from its branches? Or perhaps an apple tree which only seems to produce rotten apples? If we look at many of the overwhelming sentiments of our nation, we may conclude that God doesn’t run America in our day-to-day. There are many social issues spinning today that, in a nation run by God, would not even exist, not the least of which is prayer in schools. And there would likely be more public prayer, Creationism easily taught in public schools as an option for the origin of our world, and more consideration towards the way government was set up and ordained by God in the Scriptures. While we must judge a tree by its fruit, we can also judge it by its trunk. Christians are the trunk of this nation and religion has kept it from the well-documented ills and disasters of godless nations. The preferences of Americans have ebbed and flowed since Jefferson but the majority has stayed the same, the foundation and those who protect it have stayed the same. I think that is what counts when determining our identity. I leave you with this final thought from, if the Bible is to be believed, God Himself through the apostle Paul in Romans 13: “1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has estab-
lished. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. “6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
“There are many social issues spinning today that, in a nation run by God, would not even exist, not the least of which is prayer in schools.”
RIDICULOUS LAWS STILL ON THE BOOKS So you haven't stolen something or killed anyone? That doesn't mean jail may not be in your future. Here are some everyday habits that just might send you to the slammer! In North Dakota- Beers and pretzels cannot be served at the same time in any bar or restaurant. In Missouri- Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s illegal to drive with an uncaged bear. In Maine- It's illegal to have Christmas decorations up after January 14th. In New Jersey- It's illegal to wear a bulletproof vest while committing murder. In Nevada- It's illegal for a man to buy drinks for three people at a time. In Wiscounsin- It's illegal to serve butter substitute in prisons. In Alaska- You could spend a night in prison if you wake a sleeping bear for a photo opportunity. In South Caroline- You must be 18 years old to play a pinpall machine. In Ohio- It's illegal to get a fish drunk. In Arizona- Take your crazy sex practices to another state. The cops could take you away if you own more than two dildos. In California- There is absolutely no bowling allowed on the sidewalk. In New Yorkhancuffed.
Throwing a ball at someone's head for fun could get you
HIGH ANXIETY Elizabeth J. Sparenberg
he debate is nothing new: Should some drugs be illegal while others are not? Most Americans have heard the arguments regarding the legality of alcohol versus the illegality of marijuana: Those in favor of legalizing marijuana argue that the adverse effects of alcohol, which include debilitating intoxication, life-threatening health problems and physical addiction, far exceed marijuana’s negative qualities. Those who argue in defense of marijuana illegality generally maintain the concept that marijuana is a “gateway drug:” a drug which inspires users to continuously seek out other, stronger intoxicants. Many doctors and law enforcement officials also agree that marijuana can induce in its users a state of impairment comparable to that
found with severe alcohol intoxication; driving while under the influence of marijuana is a prosecutable offense, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse cites on their website a study which found that 14% of drivers seriously injured in traf-
fic accidents were high on pot. While this may be a better argument for the criminalization of both cannabis and alcohol,
we all know how well alcohol prohibition fared in the past. By 1920, the National Prohibition Act, also known as the Volstead Act, was in full effect. It was illegal to posses any beverage with an alcohol content higher than .5 in the United States of America. The Prohibition Act was fueled by the temperance movement, which decried alcohol as an evil that caused men to beat their wives and waste money needed for the family. Loopholes to the anti-alcohol law included sacramental wine and liquor prescribed by doctors for medical purposes. The general public’s reaction to alcohol prohibition was similar to the current attitude toward pot. Alcohol consumption did not stop; people began fermenting wines privately in their homes, underground saloons known
as “speakeasies” began to pop up around the country, and jails overflowed with people arrested for non-violent, alcohol related crimes. Alcohol prohibition ultimately failed; in 1933 the constitutional amendment prohibiting alcohol was repealed. If alcohol prohibition displayed such striking similarities to the prohibition of marijuana and other narcotics, why was alcohol prohibition repealed after only 13 years while the criminalization of narcotics is still in effect? Ironically, California was the first state to pass an anti-marijuana law. Utah quickly followed, and from there it was not long before marijuana was illegal across the nation. Anyone who has seen the infamous propaganda film Reefer Madness knows that marijuana was labeled as an extremely dangerous drug. It was thought to be more addictive than heroin and feared for its alleged tendency to turn its users into sex-crazed psychopaths. Modern medicine disproves these allegations: marijuana has no physically addictive properties, and there has been no link found between violence and marijuana usage. Historians are now beginning to recognize that these marijuana laws were fueled more by anti-Mexican sentiments, fear, and possibly corporate economic concern than by valid medical concerns. In fact, modern studies suggest that cannabis may have legitimate medical pur-
poses, including non-addictive pain management, assistance eating for anorexic or cancer patients, and researchers are even looking into the effects of cannabinoids upon tumor reduction. Now 16 states (California being the first) allow people to posses and some-
times even grow marijuana for medical purposes. The legalization of marijuana is a much slower process than it was for alcohol. It is convoluted with misconceptions, complicated by economic and legal concerns, and contested hotly by diehard anti-drug spokespeople. A much quieter issue
of debate within the United States is that of narcotic legalization in general. Anti-narcotic legislation began in 1909 with a law enacted to regulate the distribution of opium. Propagated by popular opium dens and wartime prescriptions, “hard drugs” such as opium, morphine, heroin and cocaine were widely used at the beginning of the 20th century. Interest in the decriminalization of narcotics increased in the1960s, when speed and LSD became extremely popular. But the physically addictive properties of opiates, the links to violence and crime found with “uppers” like cocaine and methamphetamine, and the ties to insanity found with hallucinogens has prevented the success of any movements aimed toward legalizing these drugs. Most people do not contest the illegality of narcotics in the U.S. because of their obvious negative qualities; what many people do not realize is that most narcotics were developed and originally implemented as medicines, and some are still
“The general public’s reaction to alcohol prohibition was similar to the current attitude toward pot. Alcohol consumption did not stop”
prescribed today. An example of this is speed: The street drug sold as speed is usually methamphetamine. Take away the “methyl” binder and you have Adderol: pure, pharmaceutical amphetamine prescribed commonly to children and teenagers for the treatment of ADHD. Methamphetamine itself is manufactured as Desoxyn, which is prescribed to narcoleptic patients. Fentanyl, which is stronger than heroin, is prescribed as a painkiller for terminal and surgical patients. MDMA, or “ecstasy,” was first developed as an appetite suppressant and later used by marriage counselors for therapeutic purposes. Cocaine has been used as a topical anesthetic and used to be an ingredient in Coca-Cola. Besides known “hard drugs” such as speed and opiates, other addictive substances are routinely prescribed. For example, benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax, which can lead to fatal withdrawals, are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. If the drugs Americans most revile permeate our cultural history and medical community, why are these drugs and their users publicly demonized? Many decriminalization or legalization advocates argue that the crime and health problems associated with drug use stem from the illegal status of these drugs. “Needle exchanges” have begun to pop up around the country, handing out free, sterile needles, water and cookers to injection drug users: Their purpose is to reduce the amount of HIV and Hepatitis C
infections among injection drug users, and they have shown some success. Fear of arrest, ostracization in the workplace, and difficulty obtaining drugs are cited by some as prime reasons for the high rate of violent crimes committed by drug users. Many drug rehabilitation programs view addiction as a disease which should be treated rather than punished. Some international drug laws imply that this line of thinking may be at least partially correct. Ten years ago, Portugal decriminalized all drugs and now the Portuguese government claims that the number of problematic drug users, defined as habitual users of hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine, has decreased by about half. While legalizing narcotics may be too huge a step for Americans to handle, we may learn something from Portugal’s decriminalization approach: Portuguese citizens found in possession of illegal drugs appear in front of a special addiction panel rather than criminal court. If the offender is deemed an addict, he is sent to treatment. Sometimes people convicted of violating the
United States’ Uniform Controlled Substances Act are sent to outpatient treatment after serving time in jail or prison, but these programs have a low priority in the fanatical “War on Drugs” legislation, and a lot of the funding for these programs has recently been cut. There does not yet exist uncontestable evidence whether the United States’ current approach, or a more lax, decriminalization stance is more conducive to the reduction in crime and addiction, but it is certainly worth looking at the positive results other governments have had with decriminalization efforts.
“If the drugs Americans most revile permeate our cultural history and medical community, why are these drugs and their users publicly demonized?”
THE INTERVIEW: NORML The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has provided a voice in the public policy debate for those Americans who oppose marijuana prohibition and favor an end to the practice of arresting marijuana smokers. A nonprofit public-interest advocacy group, NORML represents the interests of the tens of millions of Americans who smoke marijuana responsibly. Mercutio Magazine sat down with Executive Director Allen St. Pierre to find out how the cannabis conversation is changing in this country.
With the economy suffering and the country needing more revenue, the topic of legalizing marijuana has come up more and more. Yet, there still seems to be hesitation on the part of politicians when discussing the subject. Why is that? Why specifically, when alcohol and tobacco are taxed and legal for adults, is marijuana still illegal? Your question is best asked to a politician as no one at NORML can figure out why any sane person would want to support another 74 years of Cannabis Prohibition.
drugs. Cannabis may be the first illicit drug youth may try, but it is not the first drug. What would be the impact of legalization on poor or inner city communities? Considering that minorities are arrested at a national average of 3.5:1 to whites...and 9:1 in major cities like New York, legalizing cannabis would logically diminish the opportunities police have to introduce
major source for ‘drug’ prisoners; however, few offenders were sentenced for cannabisrelated offenses. In regards to Rockefeller drug law reform, NORML is part of a 10 year old alliance of reform groups (ACLU, NYCLU, DPA, etc...) that have achieved some rollback in the sentencing laws in NY. If marijuana became a legal substance, ideally how would you want it to be con-
In terms of stimulating the economy, would there really be such a large amount of revenue from taxing marijuana? The estimates for legalizing cannabis range from $8 - $30 billion annually (for taxation and windfall for not trying to enforce an unenforceable law). There are some who argue that marijuana is a "gateway drug" and would lead to excessive use of other narcotics. What is your position on the legalization of all drugs? Should the government have a say in what someone puts into their body? Cannabis is not a so-called gateway drug as 1) federal survey data indicate for every 102 cannabis consumers, 1 person goes on to use a ‘hard drug’ and 2) the drugs in order of first use according to government surveys: alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and in some communities, prescription
them into a malevolent criminal justice system. From voting rights, to criminal records, to ‘red lining’, Prohibition is a terrible thing for minorities and their communities. Our prisons are filled with non-violent offenders, many of whom are there on drug charges. Are the Rockefeller Laws responsible for the influx of prisoners? How is NORML working to change this? Rockefeller Laws in NY are the
trolled? Would it be packaged like cigarettes? Only for medicinal purposes? NORML favors legalization of cannabis for all adults and not just for those who claim a medicinal need. NORML takes no formal position on the best way that cannabis can be distributed as those decisions will be made by elected policy makers who could choose a private seller model, a state-owned store model, etc...NORML principally favors ending the criminal sanctions for responsi-
ble adult use. Marijuana is unlike any of the other drugs in the sense that you never really hear about people dying from it or long-term effects. What are the dangers, if any, of uncontrolled or excessive marijuana use? “Marijuana, in its natural form, is the safest therapeutic substance known to man....it has never caused an overdose... it is safer than most foods and medicines we currently take....”
(HR 2306); also, 4-5 states in 2012 will have ‘legalization’ initiatives on the ballot for voters. We hear about marijuana being used for medical purposes quite a bit in the media. How often is marijuana really prescribed to treat illness? Cannabis is helpful for a wide range of ailments. The five examples where cannabis is now uncontroversially used (i.e.,
DEA Chief Law Judge Francis Young, NORML vs. DEA, 1988 Generally speaking, like most anything enjoyable, cannabis can be abused. However, as non-toxic plant material, when abused, at worse, it could cause someone to eat too much cookie dough. What are some policies currently on the table to make marijuana a legal substance? What kind of resistance are these policies being met with? 14 states have decriminalized cannabis possession....16 states and DC have ‘legalized’ medical access to cannabis... and there currently is a legalization bill pending in Congress
these are the major diseases that state laws allow patients to use cannabis) are for glaucoma, cancer, AIDS, MS and epilepsy. How has the popularity of shows like WEEDS and TRAILER PARK BOYS changed the conversation about marijuana use in our society? And in Washington? Any and all public conversations about cannabis, nota-
bly from popular culture (TV, music, movies, etc...) largely ‘NORMLize’ and de-mystify cannabis from a public who has been exposed to massive amounts of Reefer Madness (i.e., government propaganda against cannabis). Washington DC will be the last place in America to ‘get it’ re cannabis since the US Congress (and about a dozen presidents) are the sui generis of Cannabis Prohibition and proponents of almost nine decades of Reefer Madness and rigorous law enforcement. What are NORML's plans for the upcoming election season? NORML will be working on the numerous state initiatives, to pass HR 2306, to fund cannabis-friendly candidates, litigate in state and federal courts and work with NORML’s 160 chapters, 600 lawyers and over 1 million online ‘friends’ via our Facebook pages, Twitter feed, internal listservs, and daily podcast. The organization will also host conferences, seminars and events in favor of law reform all over the nation.
CELEBRITY JUSTICE Tylla Bradley
“OK, we know they get special treatment. So why do we let them get away with it?”
ne of the basic tenets of Western civilization is that no one is above the law. Kings and queens, rich and poor, men and women have repeatedly found this to be true, but in the twenty-first century, one lone group has managed to supersede the rules – celebrities. The bizarre insulation and isolating effective of the Hollywood Hills seems to create the impression that the rules that apply in “flyover” country are suspended for the elite that the little people are meant to adore. So, anarchy reigns amongst the group fiercely protected by their lawyers and publicists. And when someone leaks an account from the protective barriers, it is instantly laughed off, justified, or the offending celebrity is pushed on the public in a whirlwind tour to show Academy Award level performances of contrition. In reality, justice doesn’t exist in Hollywood, or anywhere else for that matter. The discrepancies of the justice system and human nature are simply more pronounced and flagrant when
a court case is examined under the bright biased lights of the media. Justice, as a concept, is a great principle that no one is able to fully enforce because of the many vagaries of the human condition and perception of what is just. The semblance of justice remains as the inept of the Hollywood and celebrity criminal element parades through court receiving ceremonial slaps on the wrist and the occasional “hard” sentence to show that they really aren’t above the law. But, why do celebrities get off so easily? The reasons are both simple and complex at the same time. Easy reason: most celebrities are able to either 1) hire expensive attorneys who are capable of adequately
defending them or 2) good attorneys volunteer to represent celebrities for the publicity. Either way, quality legal defense is always a good thing. Money says a lot. Prominent L.A. attorney Blair Berk noted, “Los Angeles is a company town [and the company is the entertainment industry]. If it was Washington, I would have defended congressmen. If it was Detroit, it would have been car executives.” Instead, she defends celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, Ryan Seacrest, and Mel Gibson. Berk managed to compact Lohan’s two 2007 DUI arrests into a plea deal that included a cursory prison visit, community service, and another ineffective stint in rehab. This was punishment for driving, on two separate occasions, motorized vehicles when either intoxicated, high on cocaine, or both. In one case, she was in the act of chasing another car in which the person would later comment that she was afraid for her life. Still, the deputy district attorney stated that, “Lohan received the same
While many celebrities’ criminal scrapes are either quietly resolved or handled with kid gloves by the justice system, there are several who are sent to jail. -Lil’ Wayne was sentenced to a year in Riker’s Island on firearms charges -Michael Vick went to prison for perjury related to a dog fighting ring on his property -Wesley Snipes was sentenced to 36 months for not filing his taxes
sentence (one day in jail, plus 10 days of community service) that anyone else with a second DUI conviction would get. She got no special treatment." In actuality, a second offense DUI in California warrants at the bare minimum 96 hours in jail (or up to 90 days). Of Lohan’s one-day sentence, she served 84 minutes, due to “overcrowding,” a politically correct way of saying “You deserve special treatment.” But isn’t jail supposed to be a punishment? Granted, there are those who go for the socialization, medical care, or merely to increase their street cred, but the basic idea is that you don’t want to be there. However, just because you don’t want to be in jail doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. If you did the crime you most certainly should serve the time. Something vapid socialites Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton
need to be clued in on. Both had their brushes with the criminal justice system with the Hollywood crime du jour, the DUI. After driving her luxury SUV the wrong way on the L.A. freeway, Richie served 82 minutes of her four-day sentence. She later said in an interview that that was “my way of paying my dues and taking responsibility and being an adult.” To her credit, those 82 minutes seemed to have scared her straight, however the same cannot be said of her friend, Paris Hilton. Hilton, who seems almost incapable of not being caught, spent three days of a three week sentence in jail before being released to house arrest. In 2010, she was arrested for possession of cocaine again after inadvertently showing it to a police officer while looking for lip-gloss in a purse that she first denied was hers.
Well, that’s the price you pay for being a black male in a world of predominately white celebrities. You stand out and you rarely get a pass for your wrongdoings. And, even when you do (here’s looking at you O.J., Kobe, and M.J.), you’re still ostracized until public opinion turns or you actually become some version of what people think you are. And, while football player Plaxico Burress was recently released from jail for accidentally shooting himself, the king of the uncaught celebrities, Charlie Sheen, who himself is no stranger to gunshot wounds, domestic abuse, and prostitution, continues his diminishing blaze of self-destruction. With a laundry list of incidents that would have sent a lesser man, even a lesser actor, to jail Charlie uses his rampant criminal misbehavior to propel his dubious career of playing characters named Charlie forward until he reached the pinnacle of his career as the highest paid TV actor thus far. Unfortunately, he also tumbled off that pinnacle in an overly public, psychotic debacle that is sure to make it on a lot of
top ten of 2011 lists in December. As some have said, his fall makes Lindsay Lohan look like she has it together. At least Martha Stewart actually spent some time in prison, not behind bars, but prison. And you have to know that life without access to decorating equipment must have been murder for the multi-millionaire (former) stockbroker. Likewise, 24 star Kiefer Sutherland conveniently served his 48 days in jail for a DUI charge during the summer to accommodate his day job. His lawyer, Blair Berk, praised him saying, “Kiefer felt a responsibility to his show, and the hundreds of people that were employed, to resolve his case quickly and in a way that protected their jobs." When in doubt, spin the story to come out as the hero. While in prison, Martha Stewart didn’t sit and contemplate the hurt she caused and the reason she was in jail. Instead, she worked as a liaison between the prison management and her fellow prisoners because they’re all in the same boat. Kiefer didn’t go to jail because he broke the law and was being punished for his recklessness and irresponsibility. Instead, serving jail time was the “selfless” responsible choice for the actor. OK, we know they get special treatment. So why do we let them get away with it? The complex reason is that weird psychological relationship the public has with celebrities. James Houran, clinical psychologist and joint creator of the Celebrity Worship Scale, commented “[Celebrity worship is] a form of social bond-
ing, stress reduction, escapism and entertainment." Several celebrity trials have hinged on the fact that the defendant is simply too well-know to find an unbiased jury. One obvious, controversial example would be either of the O.J. Simpson trials. After being acquitted of double homicide, the former football star and actor managed to find his way back to criminal court where it seems that public opinion ruled the day and he found himself sentenced to 33 years in jail for an incredibly stupid stunt that would have gotten most other celebrities a slap on the wrist. Combined with the public sense of knowledge and familiarity, it’s difficult to believe that the person that seems like a close friend would be capable of wrongdoing. And, even if they did it, well, take it easy on them, just because. Not that this approach is good for society or the celebrity. During the trial that eventually sent him to prison, notorious drug addict Robert Downey, Jr. told the judge, “It`s like I have a loaded gun in my mouth, and I like the taste of metal.” In situations like these, public attention changes drastically from harmlessly friendly escapism to a disturbing level of twisted voyeurism. Are people crying for justice because they truly believe that it is deserved, or because they want to see what Lindsay Lohan will do behind bars? This change prompts the questions that some are afraid to
ask and many are afraid to answer. Are these crimes simply a desperate pantomime for the never satisfied audience waiting for a fading actress to turn in her last performance? If so, America literally has a front row seat to watching a troubled young woman milk her suicide for all the media attention it can get. In Orwell’s Animal Farm, the pig’s first rule eventually evolved from “All animals are equal,” to “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others." In America, everyone is equal under the law, but some people get a little more leeway for special circumstances. As more and more of the pantheon of celebrities march though the halls of justice to receive their perfunctory slap on the wrist, the divide spreads a little more. In a land where society is obsessed with their every move and they can do no wrong, there is and cannot be justice for the celebrity, to the detriment of the defendant and society. Just because justice is blind doesn’t mean she can’t hear the media circus and, right or wrong, it affects her judgment.