HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Drug War Strategy Assailed at Forum
Pubdate: Thu, 10 Mar 2005
Source: Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA)
Copyright: 2005 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Contact:  http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/408
Author: Hector Castro, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter
Cited: King County Bar Association ( www.kcba.org )

DRUG WAR STRATEGY ASSAILED AT FORUM

Role of Treatment Stressed in Reducing Street-Level Dealing

Despite a variety of backgrounds -- from attorneys to outreach workers
to recovering drug users -- most of those gathered yesterday at
Seattle City Hall to discuss the war on drugs agreed that, as waged
today, it is at best ineffective and at worst expensive and unfair.

"We really must stop these wasteful practices," said Roger Goodman, an
attorney with the King County Bar Association.

Goodman was one of eight people who met with a group of City Council
members for a brown-bag discussion about the war on drugs.

Councilman Nick Licata, who heads the city's committee on issues
dealing with law enforcement, convened the meeting, but said it really
was done at the urging of groups advocating for reforms in how drug
laws are enforced.

The goal, he said, is for the city to begin working on drug treatment
as a way of reducing street-level drug dealing, rather than relying on
law enforcement to arrest street dealers.

"I want the council to send a strong message to the mayor and the
Seattle Police Department," he said.

Licata said he plans to hold two public-safety forums this spring and
may survey those attending about their attitudes toward drug use and
enforcement.

Those gathered included Katherine Beckett, a professor at the
University of Washington whose study on the racial makeup of those
arrested in Seattle for drug offenses found that blacks make up a
disproportionate number of the arrests.

Though they account for less 9 percent of the city's population,
Beckett said yesterday, blacks make up 64 percent of those police
arrest for dealing drugs. At the same time, her study found that the
vast majority of drug users and dealers are white, not black.

D'Adre Cunningham, a public defender representing a group of six
accused street dealers, was also at yesterday's discussion.

Of greatest concern, she said, were the racial disparities that
studies like Beckett's have shown.

"We believe that it is bad public policy to, once these issues have
been brought to light, continue to enforce in a racially disparate
way," Cunningham said yesterday.

Beckett's work is part of the defense for the six men Cunningham is
representing. The men are defending themselves by arguing that the way
Seattle police enforce drug laws is biased because of the heavy focus
on street dealing.

Last month, the group won a legal victory that allows it to proceed
with its defense and question several top-level police officials about
drug-enforcement policies.

There have been other calls for change recently.

Last week, the King County Bar Association released a report arguing
that drug abuse should be dealt with as a medical problem, not a
crime. The state should regulate the manufacture and distribution of
now-illegal drugs and that, the association contends, would reduce
drug-related crime, gang violence and drug use among children.

Former Seattle police Chief Norm Stamper has also weighed in on the
debate. In his book, "Breaking Rank," scheduled to be published by
Avalon this June, Stamper argues for decriminalizing drugs. The
current laws, he writes, waste taxpayer money, unfairly target
minorities and have resulted in police across the country making more
arrests for drug offenses than they do for murder, manslaughter, rape
and aggravated assaults combined.

Yesterday, one of those attending was City Attorney Tom Carr, who
defended officers going after street dealers, but also supported more
efforts toward drug treatment.

"It should be the right of a citizen to get whatever treatment they
need," he said.

But in the end, Carr said, the discussion on drug laws needs to take
place at the state and federal level.

"The city of Seattle has no authority to decriminalize anything," he
said. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake