Pubdate: Fri, 07 Sep 2001
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2001 Los Angeles Times
Bookmark: (Walters, John)


WASHINGTON -- A coalition of civil rights and health groups expressed 
concern Thursday that President Bush's choice to lead the nation's fight 
against drugs would sacrifice prevention and rehabilitation programs in 
favor of punishing users.

The Coalition for Compassionate Leadership on Drug Policy also criticized 
John Walters for denying that young black men are disproportionately jailed 
on drug charges and for opposing reforms to mandatory minimum sentencing 

The coalition does not endorse or oppose nominees, but individual members 
spoke harshly about Walters, promising serious opposition if he does not 
soften his views. "It's truly disturbing to have our nation's nominee for 
the top drug policy spot be a throwback to a more intolerant and 
reactionary way of thinking," said Vincent Schiraldi of the Center on 
Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

White House spokeswoman Anne Womack defended Walters as a "respected and 
experienced leader in drug policy" who would oversee a balanced drug 
control program.

"The White House is committed to a balanced approach toward the problem of 
drug abuse in the United States, with emphasis both on demand reduction and 
prevention," she said.

Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington bureau of the National Assn. for 
the Advancement of Colored People, said the groups have taken their 
concerns to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"I believe you'll see many more of the organizations that are members of 
the coalition taking stronger positions" after Walters' confirmation 
hearing before the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Shelton said.

Several organizations, including the Justice Policy Institute, are sending 
a letter asking senators to vote against Walters' nomination.

The letter says, "His views on race and crime make him unfit for a position 
that requires sensitivity to racial fairness."

"If the prototypical drug prisoner in America were a white, middle-class 
kid from the suburbs," Schiraldi said, "Mr. Walters would be calling for a 
national state of emergency to be declared. I'm not really waiting to hear 
the song and dance in front of the Senate."

David Carle, spokesman for Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy 
(D-Vt.), said he was "not aware of any senator on the committee who has 
made up his or her mind about the nomination yet."

Walters, a protege of former drug policy director William J. Bennett, has 
been called a hard-liner in the drug fight, favoring tough law enforcement 
measures and being skeptical of treatment programs and other efforts to 
reduce demand.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom