Pubdate: Sat, 08 Sep 2001
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2001 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: Duncan Campbell
Bookmark: (Walters, John)


Special Report: George Bush's America

The man President George Bush has nominated to lead the fight against 
drugs is unfit for office because of his views on race and crime, 
according to civil rights and drug reform groups. The claims are 
likely to lead to a clash next Tuesday when John Walters, Mr Bush's 
choice as "drugs tsar" has his Senate nomination hearing.

There is concern that Mr Walters represents the reactionary wing of 
the drugs debate in that he favours more frequent use of jail for 
users, and increased military spending in Latin America. His 
nomination hearing in front of the Senate judiciary committee on 
September 11 represents the latest clash over the president's 
attempts to appoint hardliners to key posts.

A coalition of civil rights and drug reform groups this week launched 
a critical analysis of Mr Walters' policies, saying that they 
represented a step backwards. The Coalition for Compassionate 
Leadership on Drug Policy expressed concern that he appeared ignorant 
of the realities of the drugs world.

"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 Centre on Juvenile and 
Criminal Justice, one of the groups in the coalition, which advocates 
a greater concentration of efforts on prevention and treatment.

At the heart of the concerns expressed about Mr Walters are remarks 
he made in May when he told the Weekly Standard: "What really drives 
the battle against law enforcement and punishment is not a commitment 
to treatment, but the widely held view that, first, we are 
imprisoning too many people for merely possessing illegal drugs; 
second, drug and other criminal sentences are too long and harsh, and 
third, the criminal justice system is unjustly punishing young black 
men. These are among the great urban myths of our time."

The coalition says these are far from being urban myths, and that the 
concern about prison numbers and race are backed up by official 

Of the 1,559,100 arrests for drug law violations in 1998, 78.8% were 
for possession of drugs and more than 100,000 people were in state or 
federal prison solely because of this. The average federal sentence 
for a drug offence in 1997 was 78 months, more than twice the average 
sentence for manslaughter (30 months).

According to the coalition, whites and blacks use drugs at equal 
rates, but black men are admitted to state prisons for drug offences 
at a rate that is 13.4 times that of whites, despite the fact that 
seven times more whites than blacks use drugs.

A letter sent by a number of groups separate from the coalition, 
asking senators to vote against Mr Walters' nomination, states: "His 
views on race and crime make him unfit for a position that requires 
sensitivity to racial fairness." Hilary Shelton, of the National 
Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, said that the 
concerns were being expressed to the Senate judiciary committee.

Mr Walters has described the current step-up of US involvement in 
military operations in Colombia as "cheap and effective", and has 
urged an intensification of the policy.

A White House spokeswoman described Mr Walters as a "respected and 
experienced leader in drug policy. She added: "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 
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